Why Are Catholics ‘Dancing of the Devil’ in Venezuela?
Nothing can stop the horde of faithful Catholics in Venezuela who do the dancing of the devil, a unique Venezuelan holiday and tradition.
They’re possessed by the joy of making this tradition happen every year on Corpus Christi, an annual Roman Catholic holiday commemorating the presence of Christ in the Sacrament, in a dozen coastal towns of this South American country.
The diablos danzantes (dancing devils) are a fascinating Venezuelan tradition that attracts locals and tourists alike. It is a ritual where the descendants of indigenous, Spanish, and African people dance to pay tribute to God and the Blessed Sacrament of the Catholic church by dancing backward in devil costumes.
If you want to make some sense of what you just read, keep reading to learn all about this intriguing Venezuelan holiday and tradition!
¡Vamos a Venezuela!
Let’s go to Venezuela!
What Is the Dancing of the Devil of Venezuela?
Hundreds of people dance wearing red suits, masks, and horns in front of local temples. Dancers, also called promeseros or “the ones who make promises” dance backwards in penitence while a priest walks toward them with the Blessed Sacrament.
They are members of 11 permanent fraternities or brotherhoods (totaling up to 5,000 people!) that intend to keep these Venezuela holidays and traditions alive and to pass them from generation to generation. The most famous one is the one of Yare. Each fraternity has to make their own suits and masks and wear rosaries, scapulars, and holy branches.
The music during this Venezuelan festivity includes percussion, maracas, and string instruments. People also use rattles, bells, handkerchiefs, and ribbons to ward off evil spirits.
Women are in charge of the spiritual preparation of children who participate and organize the stages of the dancing of the devil ritual. They make food, create altars along the procession route, and were recently accepted as dancers.
Dancers move around chaotically, stomping their feet and whirling around to confront other participants. At the culmination of the event, the devils surrender to God, symbolizing the victory of good over evil.
When and Where Does It Happen?
Venezuela’s dancing devils is a tradition that happens mostly in coastal towns on the 9th Thursday after Easter, when the “devil is on the loose.”
People congregate in costume. Some get there on their knees as penitence for their sins, as part of their promises, to ask for a favor, or as a way of showing gratitude for the miracles received during the year. Since 2020, most of them are asking for the pandemic to end.
The dancers traditionally pray to the Santisimo (the Blessed Sacrament) to grant their wishes. In return, they make a vow, usually to continue participating in the ritual penance.
Origin of the Dancing Devils
Venezuelans have been dancing for over 400 years. Centuries ago, people went to the nearest church to celebrate this cultural happening and to receive the Christian blessing, regardless of their religion.
According to oral tradition, the idea came from Catholic priest in the mid-1600s to attract African slaves and natives to the church. Since they didn’t want to leave behind their heritage and rituals, clerks decided to incorporate them in the eucharist celebration.
Interesting Facts About the Dancing of the Devil
Some of the processions have been forbidden due to the global pandemic, among other major adjustments. There are government and church-designated spaces to do the dancing of the devils, but tourists don’t arrive en masse as in previous years.
Some people think that even if local authorities had canceled the dancing of the devils, devout Venezuelans would have gone out anyway in their red suits.
Venezuelan holidays and traditions are a tourist magnet that can easily become a party, so the Catholic church has done much to remind people that it is a strictly religious festivity.
It has been part of UNESCO’s immaterial heritages of humanity since 2012 and serves as an anchor to the community’s background, ethnic identity and diversity, religious faith, and cultural creativity.
The dancing of the devil is part of the novel Peonía (Peony) by Manuel Vicente Romero García.
It is considered an achievement that Venezuelans have managed to keep this expensive tradition alive. People used to make suits and masks from scratch and they had to be different every year. Now they disassemble the ones they have to make next year’s during the biggest economic crisis of their history.
Travel to Venezuela and Speak Spanish
The Dancing of the Devil is one of the many Venezuela holidays and traditions awaiting you in this country full of colorful celebrations, tasty food, and kind people.
Learning Spanish is a brilliant idea, not only because it will become a significant tool and will make your resume shine but also because you will be in contact with plenty more people. Did you know that according to CNN there are 41 million people that speak Spanish at their homes in the U.S. alone? Also, Spanish is the language that has the most native speakers in the world besides Chinese. In fact, 21 countries speak Spanish, including Venezuela.
The best way to enjoy going to Hispanic countries is to prepare for your trip by learning Spanish so you can ask for directions, tips, and opinions and make friends with locals. Prepare for your trip to Venezuela by signing up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy today! Check our affordable pricing and flexible programs.
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