A popular end-of-year tradition

The Burning of the Judas dolls

By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

Judas dolls are made of combustible material and crafted by Panamanian families and artisans.

Judas dolls are made of combustible material and crafted by Panamanian families and artisans.

Shortly before Christmas, dolls that resemble politicians, movie stars and even hoodlums appear across the isthmus of Panama. These curious effigies disappear just as quickly on December 31, when they are burned at midnight. They are called “Judas dolls” and represent the year that comes to an end.

This bizarre tradition exorcises in one big bonfire the baggage of the year that ends. These dolls are usually made with old clothes and filled with straw, dry leaves, wood shavings and other materials. They are very similar to scarecrows. The tradition’s origin is unknown.

Some dolls resemble politicians, like this one of Ferrufino.

Some dolls resemble politicians, like this one of Ferrufino.

The majority of these dolls have a skeleton made of wood or metal pipes. To make the combustion process more dramatic, firecrackers are sometimes placed inside. For the head, several types of materials are used such as coconuts, pumpkins, paper bags and even cans.

Although most of the Judas dolls are of simple construction, some very creative and talented people manage to make their Judas resemble their real-life counterparts.

The confection of a Judas can take up to 10 hours and may cost up to $50. Families and neighbors get together to make them. However, there are some artisans that are particularly good at their trade and sell their Judas dolls for upwards of $100. For the majority, the creations are just a bit of fun.

Burning a Judas is certainly a different way to welcome the New Year.

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