Now, I could come up with endless excuses for being months behind in my blogs. But the only one I’m going to use is that I wanted to be able to write about all the holidays in one post, so of course I had to wait until after Carnaval! So now I shall tell you all about my first Christmas, New Years, and Carnaval in Ecuador.
Christmas and New Years fell right in the middle of our Global Citizen Year’s. Everyone said that the holidays would be hard away from home, and they were. Although Christmas decorations went up weeks ahead, and bags of candy were handed out to kids in the days surrounding, that was really about it. In fact, I spent Christmas morning at a burial at the cemetary rather than spending time with my family exchanging presents. And on top of that, it was hot. None of that white christmas business, sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace. Really, there was nothing familiar about Christmas this year and randomly during the day I found myself in tears because of it. But it was an experience, like everyday is here, and I have to remind myself that my time here is precious. Who knows how many more Christmases I’ll get to spend at home, probably endless. And a possible zero more here. I’m learning to soak in every moment and every day, the lows and the highs. Although Christmas may have been a low, New Years was definitely a high.
“Se queman años viejos en tu pais?”
Burning “años viejos” is the biggest and most popular Ecuadorian New Years tradition. I didn’t really get what it was until December 31st. However in the days before we made a life size doll of my host brother and sat it in a chair in front of the house, and other dolls showed up in the backs of trucks, on balconies, and on porches. They were stuffed with straw, dressed with clothes of the person they were representing, and had masks on the faces. And then on New Years Eve, all the años viejos (the dolls) were lined up in chairs in the coliseum where the New Years Eve dance took place. As the clock grew close to midnight, everyone crowded around outside and the años viejos were piled up and then were set fire. It was really a bizarre sight and an even stranger idea…let’s just burn some bodies to ring out the old year and bring in the new? But that is the idea of it. The dolls burned for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, and when the clock struck 12am, kisses on the cheeks and “feliz año” were exchanged among everyone. We slowly migrated back into the coliseum where hips swayed to the blasting music until sunrise. My heart was full the whole night, of culture, tradition, good dancing, and laughter.
Everyone asked how I liked New Years, and said that it was just the warm-up for Carnaval, which would take place the following month. New Years Eve was just one night, and Carnaval was to be four days and three nights. I was getting kind of nervous, as the spray foam and water guns began to appear in the streets. Carnaval technically began on March 9th, when we went to the elections of the queen of Carnaval. One of the girls from our youth group was a candidate, and we cheered at the top of our lungs for her. Unfortunately she didn’t win, but it was still fun. The next morning bright and early we (the youth group) headed back to Puerto Quito in short colorful skirts and tops…to perform our choreographed dance! We danced in a parade through the streets and then in front of a crowd. The sun was coming down hard and the carioca (spray foam), water and dyes of all colors were being sprayed, splashed, and thrown every which way.
Three weeks before Carnaval when we were deciding whether or not we were going to perform, I said no way. I can’t dance nor am I wearing whatever skimpy costume is picked out. But I went to dance practice every day and by the time Carnaval rolled around, I felt more than confident about the steps. Performing in front of hundreds of people was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
The rest of that day we spent dancing to the beat of reggaeton in the cabañas by the river in Puerto Quito. That was only the beginning. The next day we played by the river in my town, a community fiesta of rubbing dye in each others faces, pouring water on each other, and of course dancing the entire night away. If you complained about getting dirty, they said this is carnaval! Deal with it. The last day we went back to Puerto Quito; there were hundreds if not thousands of people. Although the whole thing was a bit overwhelming, it was the most fun I’ve had in ages. For four days, everyone puts everything that they got into having fun. And fun it was! There is nothing comparable in the States, at least where I live.
Those have been the three big holidays so far here (other than Day of the Dead…but that’s long gone…). The last week of March will be Semana Santa, or Holy Week. We will see what that brings!