All of us grew up with different traditions around the end-of-year holidays. Since we moved to South America, we have adopted some of the traditions of our new home in Ecuador. This year we have had the pleasure of sharing the holidays and those traditions with a new friend, Christine, who is visiting from the U.S.
Two of the traditions we have come to love most are the International Chorale Concert and the Pase del Niño. Every year during Christmas week, the Cuenca International Chorale presents a free concert in the Old Cathedral in El Centro. The singers come from all over the world, but all live in Cuenca now. The selections range from traditional Christmas carols to works in Spanish, French, and several other languages, and the concert concludes with the entire audience joining together to light candles and sing Christmas carols in both English and Spanish.
Christmas Eve begins with the fantastic parade called Pase del Niño. It lasts seven or eight hours, with music, dancing, colorful costumes, and every segment of Ecuadorian society represented. One major aspect of the parade is the carrying of the Christ Child through the streets. Replicas of the Baby have often been handed down for generations, and families dress in costumes representing the Holy Family and other characters from the Nativity story. Additionally, one can also see Papa Noel (Santa Claus) walking with the Holy Family, and who’s to say that’s not how it really happened?
After opening gifts at home on Christmas morning, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch with friends. One of the beautiful parts of being in Ecuador is that we come from different traditions and different belief systems, and yet we find common ground and community here.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, we shared with Christine some of our favorite places in and around Cuenca. We took a city tour, visited the Panama hat museum (Panama hats are made in Ecuador, not in Panama!), and dined on cuy (guinea pig), an Ecuadorian delicacy. We also took a day trip into the mountains around Cuenca, where we marveled at the beauty of the Virgin of the Mist Church in Biblian, which is built into the side of the mountain.
We met an incredible 87-year old woman named Rosita, who has been making hats all her life. In her younger days, she could make a hat in a day. Now it takes her three, but it is fascinating to watch her work. We capped off the day with a visit to the ruins of Ingapirca, the best-preserved archeological site in the country, representing both the moon-worshiping Cañari and the sun-worshiping Incas.
As New Year’s Eve approached, we–along with the rest of the world–prepared to greet a new year. In Ecuador, we let go of the old and welcome the new by burning effigies called monigotes, masked figures whose pockets and bodies are stuffed with slips of paper representing the things we wish to release. The monigotes are set on fire, and tradition says that each person jumps over the burning monigote three times. Although it sounds simple, we discovered that our monigote was wearing non-flammable clothing and was stuffed with both cardboard and plastic. Getting it to flame was something of a challenge. We laughed about the fact that letting go is sometimes a difficult process, and that change sometimes comes slowly. However, we persevered until our monigote was a pile of ash in the street.
As midnight approached, we were standing on our terrace watching the fireworks. Below us, about twenty members of our landlord’s family gathered to celebrate. They saw us standing on the terrace and invited us down to join their monigote celebration. Each family member had a monigote, and the bodies were piled in the street. They knew the trick of getting the fire started, and before long their effigies were blazing in the middle of the street. They shared a glass of wine with us and even invited us to a midnight supper, and although we declined the meal, since we had already eaten, we enjoyed celebrating with them.Their generosity was a testimony to the graciousness of the Ecuadorian people.
We share one more sweet tradition with you. On New Year’s Eve, each person is to eat twelve grapes, and make a wish for each grape. We were gathered with friends, and as we shared our wishes, we discovered that we were so content we had little to wish for–for ourselves. Most of our wishes were for a kinder, gentler, more loving world, and that we might be instruments of bringing this change about. We wish for less anger, more dialogue; fewer tweets, more conversation; less duality, more harmony; a deeper understanding that we are all us, and there is no them.
And so we come to this new year, wishing the same for you. May your days be filled with grace and generosity, and your hearts be filled with love. Always love.
Happy New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo.
Pam & Penny