Shortly before Christmas, dolls that resemble politicians, movie stars and even hoodlums appear along the Interamerican Highway from Capira to San Carlos in the Panama West province. 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 somewhat bizarre tradition exercises in one big bonfire the baggage of the year that finishes. These dolls are usually made with old clothes and filled with straw or dry leaves, wood shavings and other materials. They are very similar to scarecrows. The tradition’s origin is unknown, but some said that started as a joke among the San Carlos’ residents.
The majority of these dolls have a skeleton made of wood or metal pipes. To make the combustion process more dramatic the Judases also have fireworks inside. For the head several types of materials are used such as coconuts, pumpkin, paper bags and even cans.
Although most of the Judas dolls are very simple, there are very creative and talented people around who manage to make their Judas have such likeness to their real life model that it is uncanny. The artist selects the most remarkable person of the year, being good or bad to represent the year.
The creation of a Judas can take 10 hours and cost between $30 and $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 up to $100, for the majority the creations are just a bit of fun.
This tradition is so popular that a competition between the communities of Chame and San Carlos takes place every year and on Monday, December 30 at the Jardin Popular of Sajalices in Chame, 4:00 p.m. the maker of the best Judas could win $300.
Burning a Judas is certainly a different way to welcome the New Year.