Judas Dolls are displayed for days or even weeks along the side of the road in the interior regions of Panama. On New Year's Eve, they are stuffed with fireworks and are burned at midnight. The Judas Dolls represent everything you would like to forget or leave behind from the past year. Burning them is a sign of starting the new year with a clean slate.
It's not unusual to see Judas Dolls of celebrities and political figures. The most popular seem to be of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The funny thing is that the Bush and Obama Judas Dolls are often side by side next to Miss America or Martha Stewart. Is this a representation of bipartisan politics? Or just equal opportunity disdain for everything American? Or maybe just a contest to see who can create the most recognizable Judas Doll? Once I learn Spanish, I'll let you know.
Some places, like Ranchos Los Toros near Coronado, even offer a New Year's Eve event of an open bar coupled with the ability to make your own Judas Doll. Just bring old clothes that can be burned and a willingness to have fun. Drinking and burning... that's a combo you can't do in the States.
If you're going to be celebrating New Year's Eve in Panama, be sure to take a journey outside of Panama City and into the interior regions. If you're feeling naughty, you can create a Judas Doll of your ex-spouse, ex-partner, or current pain-in-the-butt colleague. It may not work to make that person disappear from your life, but it will probably make you feel better. Regardless, the tradition of burning Judas Dolls is one you won't want to miss.