Today's guest, Connie of ThereGoesConnie.com, answers first hand the question What is Christmas like in Ecaudor? and shares some of their delightful traditions.
When I think back to the Christmases I spent in Ecuador versus the many I've spent in the States, I remember that Ecuador had more nativity scenes (pesebres) and fewer Christmas trees. They had a subdued emphasis on presents with much less elaborate spending and giving.
In a country with considerably more poverty, the focus was on time with family, traditional foods and the big Christmas Eve parade. In those ways, I admired their scaled back commercialism of this holiday.
The Christmas Eve Parade
In Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, Paseo del Niño Viajero is the parade which lasts from early morning till late afternoon. It illustrates the journey of Joseph and Mary with many floats depicting religious themes. Thousands of people line the parade route, not just with Cuencanos but with Quichua and native people from throughout the region.
The Tucuman dancers perform the Baile de Cintas in the street, which is similar to a May pole dance with ribbons going over and under, and musicians and bands play loudly and exuberantly.
Elaborately-costumed and decorated children, horses and trucks display all kinds of fruit, sweets and cooked meats. It's not uncommon to see whole pigs, chickens or guinea pigs that have been roasted on the backs of those horses, donkeys or vehicles.
Many, many bottles of alcohol are also included in the display. For that reason, Paseo del Niño has a sad aspect. People cover their cars with alcohol and other expensive items to leave as sacrifices for the Christ child. This often results in the streets being littered with drunk men and women on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve Dinner in Ecuador
Cena de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve supper) usually consists of turkey or chicken, grapes, raisins, salads, rice with cheese, local produce and wine or chicha, which is a fermented or non-fermented beverage made from grains, corn or fruit. And, the Misa del Gallo (Midnight Mass) is attended by the whole family. Buñuelos are sweet treats that are served throughout the holiday season. A much beloved Cuenca family shared their own special recipe with me, and it is included below.
Who is Ecuador's Santa?
Their version of Santa Claus is Papá Noél. Children leave lists of what they want in old shoes at the foot of their beds, and on Christmas morning they find new shoes with some presents from their wish list. Our dear friend Juan Miguel remembers a time when he asked for a bike for Christmas, and on Christmas Eve his parents told him to put out his shoes. The next morning the seat to his bike was in his shoes, much to his delight.
Grandparents often give bags of candy to their grandchildren. I wish we could adopt that tradition. I have 13 grandchildren. Bags of candy would be MUCH less expensive.
Christmas Day in Ecuador
Christmas Day itself is a family day with gifts and visits, but from what I observed, it was “business as usual” in many cases. The markets and other businesses were back open, and life seemed to resume its normal rhythm very quickly. Certainly there was no mad dash to the mall to exchange gifts or find big sales.
The Ecuadorian New Year Tradition of Año Viejo
I was very intrigued by the scene between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Piles and stacks of effigies or doll-like figures stuffed with hay and fireworks were everywhere. These are often portrayed as disliked politicians, famous people or fairy-tale type characters.
At midnight on December 31st, the Fiesta del Año Viejo takes place. The “old man,” representing the year that is passing, is taken out in the street and burned. One of the most vivid illustrations I've ever seen of “out with the old and in with the new.”
There is much to admire about the way Ecuadorians celebrate Christmas. I'm glad I had a chance to experience it firsthand.
An Ecuadorian Christmas Treat Recipe
4 oz. Extra-fine cornmeal (such as the Goya or Bob's Red Mill brands available at Wal-Mart)
2 oz. Wheat flour
A pinch of baking powder
A pinch of star anise (a spice that has a licorice-like sweet flavor)
4 oz. Butter
1 cup Water
1 t. salt
Oil for frying
Bring the butter, water and salt to a soft boil. Meanwhile, mix sifted flours and cornmeal with baking powder and anise. Once the water mixture is boiling, add dry ingredients and stir while it cooks.
Remove mixture from heat and let cool. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to make a good, soft, pliable dough.
Heat oil. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into hot oil. Be sure to push the dough under the oil to ensure it cooks through the center.
Once cooked, remove from oil and place on a paper towel-lined sheet or bowl. Serve with syrup or honey. You can also roll the hot bunuelos in a sugar/cinnamon mixture or sprinkle them with powdered sugar.
Connie Pearson and her husband are Alabama natives and former missionaries to Ecuador. They have 3 grown children and 13 grandchildren. Connie is a travel writer and blogger. You can follow her at There Goes Connie, or order a copy of her book, Telling It On the Mountain: 52 Days in the Life of an Improbable Missionary on Amazon.