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Good and evil face-off through dance on Christmas Eve

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Abraham and Issac take down the devil in defense of an infant Jesus in Dzitnup, Yucatán. Photo: Courtesy

Last Friday, on Christmas Eve, the small town of Dzitnup was the stage for one of Yucatán’s most unique holiday celebrations, the dance of “Abraham and Isaac”.

During the ritual, men dance while wearing wooden masks representing the biblical father and son duo, Abraham and Isaac.

According to tradition, this ritualistic dance is done to protect the newly born baby Jesus, from abduction by the devil.

The ceremony is believed to have its roots in a Mayan ceremony practiced well before the arrival of the first Europeans on the Yucatán Peninsula, but has obviously taken on overtly Christian features. 

Once the dance is concluded, men taking on the roles of Abraham and Issac symbolically beat up another man dressed up as the devil near the entrance to the town’s church. Photo: Courtesy

A centuries-old version of the ceremony was witnessed by the Catholic Friar Alonso Ponce in 1588 who described it as a ceremony to scare away Kisín, a Mayan demon closely associated with Satan during the colonial period. 

Earlier: Torch runners complete pilgrimages for the Virgin of Guadalupe

“The dance is an example of religious syncretism and a big part of our community’s identity, it is a great honor to take part in the ceremony,” says local historian Cruz Alberto Pat Itzá.

During the early colonial period, it was common for missionaries to highlight similarities between Meso-American religion and the Christian faith, in an effort to make the latter easier to accept for the indigenous Maya. 

Another well-known example of religious syncretism in Yucatán are the parallels drawn between the rain god Chaac and the Archangel Michael. 

Located just a few kilometers from Valladolid, Dzitnup is a very indigenous majority town of just under 1,300 residents. 

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