In much of Latin America, Easter is a week long celebration called Semana Santa. One of the traditions here in San Cristobal de las Casas is the burning of Judas on Easter eve. The burning of Judas tradition came to Mexico with the Spanish five hundred years ago. In San Cristobal that tradition has morphed into an artistic competition with a strong social and political message.
In the morning of the day before Easter, the large artworks of Paper Mache and paint are hung in the square behind San Cristobal’s municipal building. These works of art are also filled to the brim with fireworks that shoot like rockets, flare like roman candles and explode like dynamite.
This year the overwhelming theme seemed to be about the violence and narco trafficking currently plaguing much of Northern Mexico. The narco violence, fueled by American money and guns, is a national tragedy. I am ever grateful that here in the southern part of Mexico we are mostly spared from the headline grabbing events of the north.
In Chiapas and the Yucatan, living and travel is still fun and quite safe. No place in the world is perfect, but fear of violence is never in my mind here. Real social problems exist in this part of Mexico, but that should not stop anyone from experiencing this amazing part of the world.
I believe that one of the ideas of this event is to burn in effigy things that plague society. Much like the original Catholic tradition of the burning of Judas to rid the world of evil.
Rightly or wrongly, the original Catholic tradition was often associated with anti-Semitic sentiments. I really like the way that San Cristobal de las Casas has transformed this old tradition into a modern competition of art and freedom of expression.
On the evening of the burning we were at a get together in the house of Beth and Hunter, our friends from Texas who had invited an eclectic and international group of folks and their kids over for some delicious food and adult beverages. They had actually made Mole from scratch for the occasion, it was incredible!
We had heard that the Judas-Art was going to be burned at 9pm from one person, at 10pm by another and at 11 by a third. Not wanting to leave the party too soon, we waited until about 10pm to walk over to the square. As good luck would have it, they started the burning of Judas just as we walked up. We weren’t able to get too close, but that turned out to be a good thing.
The crowd in the square was allowed to get pretty close to the artworks. The Fire Department of San Cristobal was there and had hoses at the ready, but that did not prevent several of the pyrotechnical devices from shooting straight into the crowd. Over the loudspeakers, the announcer kept telling people to be careful and watch out for their children. When you’re in the press of the crowd it can be a little difficult dodging a Roman candle. I didn’t actually see anyone get hurt, but I suspect a few people may have had some minor burns.
After all of the giant paper mache figures were fully burned and blown up, the prizes were announced. Surprisingly, the winner of the competition received twelve thousand pesos. I’m sure a tremendous amount of time, work and money goes into the construction of these pieces, but a thousand dollar prize seems pretty good.
Here is a short “highlights” video of some of the burning Judases.
By 11pm the whole thing was over. We walked back to our house on streets packed with people, past the Cathedral of San Cristobal and by way of the crowded Guadalupe Andador. Guadalupe is a walking street closed to auto traffic for the first four blocks coming from the zocalo. Everyone was having a great time out with friends and family at the many restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. We strolled with our friend Helen a bit more and were home by 11:30pm after having a great Easter eve. Once again Kelly and I felt truly blessed to be living in such an amazing and vibrant place.