Christmas in Ecuador

Elizabeth Ollila - Ecuador


December 29, 2017

After about two months of multiple parties every week, my family announced to me that we were about to head into “party season.” I was shocked and confused because what the hell had we been in before?? But also I was ready for it, and, I’ve got to say, Ecuadorians do not disappoint. I loveeeeeee Christmas and the time of love and happiness that it brings. I love the excuse to celebrate and to be with family.

It probably goes without saying, but holidays in a country so far from home are hard. It’s hard to think back on all of your traditions and people from home and know that this year you get none of it while everyone else does. However, it was also amazing. I was so thrilled to be a part of something so Ecuadorian, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The month of songs, masses, pase del niño, novenas, fiestas, amigo secretos, making of nativity scenes, etc. exceeded my expectations. Ecuadorians are champions at celebrating Christmas to the fullest. I wanted to give you all a small look into my Ecuadorian Christmas because it is something I will never forget.

To begin, Ecuadorians seem to have much better sight on the original meaning of Christmas. It is a lot more about the birth of Christ rather than gifts or Santa. Catholicism is HUGE here, and I cannot tell you how many times I have disappointed someone when telling them no, I’m not Catholic. However, they still welcomed me with open arms in every celebration. Nearly every Christmas tradition here is based around the birth of Jesus.

  1. Every christmas tree is accompanied by a nativity scene–even the one in the public school where I work. The one in my house was handmade by my host dad, and beautiful nativity scenes are everywhere–it seems that the trees are just background to the scene.

The nativity scene in my Grandmother’s house

  1. Novenas – a Catholic tradition that occurs for 9 days before Christmas to prepare for Jesus arriving and remembering the months before the manger in Bethlehem. I was a part of many, and every night the 9 days before Christmas my extended family all gathered in my Grandmother’s house where we would have a bible study and then coffee to end the night. Religion is hard enough already–in Spanish it is nearly impossible, but I came to really enjoy these nights because my family was so passionate about it, and we always ended up staying late and chatting with everyone–I really love my extended family.

The Novena band:) Each night began and ended with Christmas songs

  1. Pase del Niño. This might be my favorite thing that I experienced. Every person gets dressed up as some person from the birth of Jesus–Mary, Joseph, a King, Shepherds, etc.–and we walk through the town while blasting music and heading to a Church service. I was part of one with my school where I was the White King (who knew there was a white king?), and I even ended up saying part of the lecture in Spanish in front of everyone at Church. I was proud and so was my host mom:). On Christmas Eve there was a huge Pase de Niño through my town. Instead of walking they were in decorated cars and horses, and they threw candy. On the back of horses were cooked pigs, chicken, and guinea pig–very Ecuadorian. We went and watched, and in that moment it felt truly like Christmas.

While gifts are not a huge thing, we did have a secret santa, or amigo secreto at school. Every day of December my co-workers and I gave our amigo secreto a 25 cent gift, and then, right before Christmas, we met for a fun lunch (with karaoke) and exchanged a big gift. It made me really feel a part of them, and I loved that.

On Christmas day my family had two parties (no surprise there). We had a lunch with my mom’s side, and then dinner with my dad’s side. Lunch was delicious and I love just sitting around the table talking to people who have truly become another family to me. Dinner was filled with games and performances. We played ollas encantadas–a game sort of similar to a piñata, but instead with ceramic pots–bingo, and my grandpa insisted that everyone give some kind of performance (song, joke, story). I sang Feliz Navidad, my little brother, dad and sister sang too, my other brother did a magic trick, and my mom acted and sang along to a song. It was incredible, and my little amount of embarrassment was totally worth the experience.

How often does someone get the chance to fully live in someone else’s Christmas traditions? This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so glad that I got to be a part of the Gonzales-Mongrovejo month of Christmas. I will be back to my traditions and home before I know it, and–even though it was tough–I am beyond grateful for the events and traditions I got to be a part of. (Though I must admit–I am ready for non-party season again:))

Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo:)

Con amor,

Elizabeth

The beautiful christmas lights on a river in Cuenca

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A car decorated for El pase del Niño (notice the cooked guinea pig, chicken, and pig on the top–very Ecuadorian)

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Also part of El pase del Niño (this is traditional dress in my area of Ecuador)

A decorated horse for El pase del Niño with a dressed up kid on the back (again with the cooked animals on the back)

Marli, her host brother, and I in her town

Pedro’s fourth birthday:)

Paige and I looking over Cuenca during her super awesome visit

A cathedral in Cuenca with an amazing view

Marli, Paige, and I hiking Cajas


Elizabeth Ollila