Christmas in Ecuador

Christmas Eve, known here as noche buena, began early in the morning. My three siblings and I excitedly readied ourselves for our first Navidad activity, el Pase del Ni̱o Viajero, a special tradition of Cuenca. It was decided that I would be the Virgin Maria, dressed in pink satin with matching pink veil with accents of gold. My nine-year-old sister Gabi, despite contention from her father, insisted on being my accompanying San Jos̩, but resisted the beard. Rafa, who’s five, was a sweet angel, and Pedro a very sassy pastor. The four of us, along with mamita and our older cousin, piled into a taxi, a difficult feat with our various cardboard halos, wings, and crowns, and headed to the festivities.

We found a spot among the crowd with a view of the main event. In front of a grand cathedral, cloths were draped above a fancy display table surrounded in flowers. Beside the table stood two Ecuadorian flags on either side accompanied by military generals. Two parallel lines of impeccably dressed army men stood facing each other. Assembled behind them was a semi-circle of angels. After a few minutes the crowd had become a fluid mass, filling in all the gaps, and security guards had to ward curious on-lookers from getting too close to the scene. Baby Jesus was ceremoniously paraded to the table in a gold bed. The crowd began to part as a single file line madeits way down the street and around the corner. One by one, people approached the baby to bless it in hopes of receiving blessing in return. Taking account of Pedro’s quickly increasing state of frustration with his headdress, instead of joining the line ourselves, we joined the parade. I was one of thousands of other Marias. Costumed children rode horses and sang on floats. Cars were covered with strings of candy, fruit and other tienda snacks with bowls of traditional food attached to their hoods. That night, after spending the rest of Christmas Eve rather uneventfully, we once again fastened our halos and hit the streets of our parrroquia. At dusk, all the children in the community descended down the mountain. At the bottom, everyone was met with a bag of candy, a banana, and a little loaf of fruit cake bread.

I awoke early the next morning and immediately was taken aback by the silence. Where was the tip-toeing, the present shaking, the squeals? I crept into the living room, only to be met with disappointment. I had been expecting, naively, but nonetheless, to find presents beneath our tiny house plant covered in streamers. Hours later, after putting my disappointments to rest, I awoke again to what seemed to be an average day. That is, until I peered through the window and saw mamita and my cousin fashioning an elaborate parade float out of our pick up truck. Sitting like royalty in the back of the truck, we road into the community plaza as part of yet another parade, waving and smiling all the way. The plaza filled with biblical characters and Papa Noels. A hauling truck pulled to the center and people flung candy to the crowd. Soon the town priest was approaching the podium, and thus began the most unique church service I have ever witnessed, right there in the plaza.

My entire extended family followed us home from the plaza, our own little parade of sorts. I helped my mom dish out plates stacked high with turkey, potatoes and rice. I was instructed to serve the elders first, working my way through all 50 guests. When everyone was sufficiently stuffed, we gathered in the living room to exchange gifts with our amigos secretos. Gabi serenaded us with Libre Soy”