The Easter Tradition

Sam Reeve - Ecuador


April 23, 2013

Happy Easter from Ecuador.

I write to you today to share some of the goings-on of Semana Santa, or Holy Week, here in Ecuador. As many of you might have guessed, Ecuador, like most Latin American countries, consists heavily of Catholics because of Spanish conquest and installation of the Catholic faith hundreds of years ago (Note: exceptions can include predominantly indigenous communities, as well as much of the Ecuadorian Amazon). Cosanga, though on the Amazonian side of the Andean ridge, consists of a predominantly mestizo, or mixed, culture, and we adhere to Catholic rituals and celebrations.

To start the week off, my mother and I went milking the family cows on Wednesday (this is not typical Catholic tradition, to my knowledge). Now, growing up in a smaller city in the South, particularly one with a fair amount of pasture and farm land, one would suppose I’d have had the opportunity to milk a cow. However, my lack of prior training became quite clear very early on in my milking. As my mom stepped away from our cow after her initial test runs to ensure that all systems were “go,” I moved into the ring. I knelt down, petted our cow, grabbed a teet deemed to be at full force by my mother, and squeezed. And then I squeezed again, and again. At first, nothing. But after my third squeeze, I got enough milk out to give a quick squirt onto my pants and on the ground. Naturally, my mother burst into laughter as I smiled and kept squeezing with little to no results. She soon stepped up to the plate and put me in my place as Amateur Milker of the Year as she filled up a one-gallon jug in what seemed like five minutes. Unbeknownst to me until Wednesday, my mother leaves every morning around 7 a.m. to milk our cow. She either brings this home for our consumption, or she takes it to the storage facility in Cosanga to sell it at $0.50/liter or $2.50/gallon. Though I couldn’t milk a cow well enough to produce cream for a cup of coffee, I’ll never forget our mother-son hike and lesson to milk the cows.

While I missed Thanksgiving in the USA this year, our Good Friday ran a very similar routine: my mom awakened early to begin preparing the big meal; my siblings and their spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents arrived at our house to pass the day; and, most relatable to my family, we sat around the house and relaxed all day long playing cards, talking, and laughing. For lunch and dinner (also like Thanksgiving) we enjoyed the typical Good Friday meal of fanesca with fish. Fanesca, a soup made of twelve grains and other added foods, represents the twelve disciples of Jesus, and serves as a memorial to their ministry and lives to Jesus. Following my afternoon and evening of great food and better company, I went to our church for a “kid’s night” progam and viewing of the Passion of the Christ. I have seen this movie before, but never with various members of my community representing all ages. While I found great value in the movie in Spanish, I couldn’t help but notice how intently focused and intrigued the children, literally from 4 or 5 to 16 years old, watched this movie’s depiction of Jesus’s last moments on Earth. To be honest, I think I would have been mortified with such a graphic film before an age when I could understand heavy violence.

Saturday and Sunday, as my sister Maribel said it best, were spent “doing nothing at home.” On Saturday we all woke up late, dined on fanesca for breakfast, and hung around the house once more. Saturday, known as the Day of the Glorias, was a day meant to celebrate and appreciate all ladies named Gloria. Luckily for us, my mother here is named Gloria, so we spent the day being extra appreciative to a woman who still woke up to milk the cows, cook all of the meals, and care for my father on one of her few days in the year when she could “take off.” As she prepared our dinner last night, her image as a tough woman really cemented itself into my memory. On Saturday, after finding a mini Easter Bunny doll in a random corner of the house, I explained to my family that the Easter Bunny is a symbol for Easter in the United States, and we use it as Santa Claus-like figure to drop off gifts and candy to kids for the holiday. Although they understood my cultural traditions with the Easter Bunny, my mother slaughtered, cleaned, and cooked one of our pet rabbits in the evening to treat me to a special Easter meal. Needless to say, it was my most satisfying experience with the Easter Bunny.

Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, is today. As I write this, I admire the newfound sunny afternoon that has arrived after a day, up until this point, full of rain. I appreciate and love days like today when life’s not about work, school, or the things that usually keeps our lives so busy all of the time. We just share our time and joy with each other and make memories of peace that will surely lead us through the next busy chapters of life.

Our Semana Santa festivities, though coming to an end, have had one central theme, and that is family time. Whether fishing, hiking, or doing homework, we’re in a group and we’re laughing, loving, and enjoying the moments that we have with each other.  Unlike Easter or even Christmas for some, we don’t pass around gifts, paint eggs, or spend money on decorations to put up for one or two weeks a year. We spend our time together as a family, and we love without the clutter of material things. I do not write this post with scorn towards buying gifts, giving them, or the culture surrounding these actions. I only wish to make the observation that this Easter, very similar to my favorite holiday back home, Thanksgiving, was spent in a similar, simple fashion to Jesus’s last supper on Earth. I’ve no doubt that is the reason I enjoyed it so much.

Sam Reeve