San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Beware of This Tradition: Judas Night

WHEN traditionalistsspeakabout restoring oldvalues and customs,they probablyare not thinkingabout Judas Night.Judas Night wasthe night beforeEaster, a night whenscary figures ambulatedin the dark andcarried off all theplants and furnitureon the porch and anything else that couldbe moved. It was a night of fun and pranksfor the young and provocation for thepriests and faithful who wanted to keepHoly Week holy.SOME old-timers recall with glee howthey not only carried off some señora’splants but also eased the oxcart out of theyard and set it down under the chickenroost, so that in the morning it was coveredwith droppings. It was even funnier if theowner, attempting to thwart Judas Nightexuberance, was sleeping in the cart.Happy memories are made of JudasNight: how the boys got a pig and set itdown in the gutter next to a neighbor whowas sleeping off his own revelry, and howthey gently placed the man’s arm aroundthe animal so he’d think he was home inbed with his wife.Carting off someone’s outhouse wasalways good for a laugh, and so was shakingan old wooden house so the occupantsthought it was an earthquake and ran outdoorsin their nightclothes shouting prayers.BUT the most important part of JudasNight was the “Judas,” a large figure madeof boards and straw stuffed into clothesand shoes, with a big ayote (pumpkin-likesquash) for a head. When possible, firecrackerswere packed inside the body.Then the Judas was walked up and downthe road, stopping at houses along the wayto knock on doors.The idea was to scare people out oftheir wits. But sometimes the Judas wasunwieldy – almost like it had a mind of itsown – and leaned forward, occasionallygetting stuck in a doorframe or even fallingover on top of a homeowner. And everynow and then the trick got turned around,as when a homeowner came to the doorcarrying a shotgun and giving the boys agood scare.Judas Night ended at dawn when allthe area Judases were committed to a bonfirein the village plaza, creating a big bangwhen all the firecrackers went off. Thiswas just about the time the priest waspreparing to say early Easter mass, and villagefolk woke to find their plants, furniture,the front gate and other portables haddisappeared during the night.JUDAS Night as a custom disappearedyears ago. The churches spoke outagainst it as a blasphemy and work of thedevil, and bars on porches were definitelya deterrent to pinching the plants andfurniture.But the night before Easter has seen arevival of Judas Night. It’s not the same;it’s a milder version. Building a Judas isnow a neighborhood or community project.The effigy is paraded around town,maybe even in the back of a pickup truck,before being taken to the town plaza forthe bonfire, which takes place earlyenough in the evening that the whole town,including the priest, old folks and littletots, can participate in this annual ritual.After all, Lent is over. Easter is joyous.Let everyone enjoy Judas Night.

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