Christmas in Ecuador, Part I

Today is December 26th, the day after Christmas.  A day when the whole world seems to slow down and catch its breath after the busy holiday season.  Finally, after what has been a busy 2 weeks, I have a chance to write about what Christmas was like here in Ecuador.  This post will address general Ecuadorian Christmas truths, while my next post will go over my Christmas experience.  Yay!

All my life, Christmas has meant pine trees, dazzling Christmas lights, the 1980’s Avon advent calendar (Rachel Mills knows the one), New Testament readings from the earlier chapters of the gospels, Christmas letters from friends and family afar, specific gift lists of what I hope to buy for each member of my family and close friends, snow, baking and indulging in Christmas cookies, Christmas carols and Christmas movies, church services, and finally, a morning of opening stocking stuffers, a tasty Christmas breakfast, then the opening of the presents under the tree, and finally, the mid-afternoon Christmas lunch (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, casserole, and dessert).

Christmas here was not that different than what I was used to.  It lacked cold weather, Christmas letters (I guess they’re not done here), pressure to buy expensive presents for every loved one in your life, English, and baked goods.  Things involved in Navidad here that I was not used to included: buñuelos (fried balls of dough served with a thin honey sauce), Christmas programs in every school here, endless parades, fireworks, live music late into the night of Christmas Eve, huge nativity scenes in every home and school, an increase in crime, Novena- the tradition of gathering together and praying for 9 days before Christmas, beginning December 16th, and the tradition of giving bags of candy to children at schools.

I enjoyed the holiday season in Riobamba very much!  About three weeks before Christmas, the center of the city came alive with Christmas lights.

Parque Sucre was a hub of activity and Christmas spirit! It kind of put Topeka to shame…

Then, the naciemientos went up: extremely elaborate nativity scenes.  Reyna helped assemble the one at Once de Noviembre.  There was also one in Guamote, and one in Anita Julia’s house.  Every house I visited this month had one occupying a corner of the living room.  I went to a teacher’s house for dinner early in the month, and her naciemiento had 3 Baby Jesuses!  Here, nativity scenes contain much more than just Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the kings, and a few barn animals.  They usually contain an entire zoo of creatures- tigers, lions, ducks, dogs.  Another strange thing I found was that often, compared with the other characters of Christmas, Jesus was huge!  I don’t know if this was to emphasize that he was important, or divine, or what, but it was not uncommon for Mary and Joseph would be Barbie-sized, and their newborn the size of a human toddler.  Naciementos contain fake snow, Christmas lights, and anything else that will help add decoration- small houses, shops, toys… Here are a few pictures from the Nacimiento at Jorge and Carolina’s- Reyna’s son and daughter-in-law- house in Quito (where I’m staying for the week)

I’ve zoomed in on Homer Simpson, other tiny toys, the girrafe, and tiger…

Onto the Christmas programs.  I know that Christmas choir and band concerts are not unusual in schools in the US, however, here, in the escuelas (elementary schools), each teacher is in charge of planning a song/dance, then a few days before Christmas, the schools puts on the program and invites the parents and members of the community.  A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Oxford Gardens Christms program.  It’s the school where my English friend, Alice, teaches.

Yes, those are 5 year-old dancing presents 🙂

In preparation for these programs, each teacher picks a uniform his class will wear.  This usually requires the parents to either do some shopping or go to a seamstress.  Then, maybe beginning 2 or 3 weeks before the program, each class works diligently on learning the dance.  I can’t imagine having to take on the role of choreographer as a teacher, but here, dancing is such a part of the culture, the teachers don’t seem to have any difficulty with the task.  Here are some pictures of the program in Guamote:

I have so much respect for this kindergarden teacher, being patient enough to successfully teach 4 year olds a dance!

The cuarto A class (about the age of 3rd graders): Up close is one of my favorites, Marta.

These are the cuarto B and quinto classes, totally shaking their booties while dancing to this popular Reggaeton song! So funny.

The sexto A class did a dramatization of the Christmas story, complete with live donkeys, machetes, and blackface (?)

Time to address the parades.  Parades are so common here that word for parade, “desfile” is not only a noun, but also a verb.  For the last few weeks, it has been completely normal to be stuck in traffic because suddenly, you are behind a parade.  There were even parades Christmas morning, a time I figured everyone would stay inside their houses with their families.  I actually was in a parade with my teachers at Once de Noviembre the 20th of December.  I had to buy a uniform for this and I was pretty excited about it beforehand.  However, this parade was so huge (there were probably about 30 schools in it), that we were desfilando for perhaps an hour and a half.  I was relieved by the time we reached the finish line.

Some of my ornery boys!

Alex, leading the band of Once de Noviembre

The teachers of the colegio!

Here are just a few pictures from the parade in Guamote

The students' parents walked with the classes, making the parade quite a family affair.

Last, but not least, usually the last day of school before Christmas (this year, it was Friday the 23rd), donors come to the schools, equipped with hundreds of bags of candy and crackers.  This seems to be more of a necessary part of Christmas than a nice, unexpected gesture.  Here’s the line of children waiting for their bag of candy in Guamote:

Just like most parts of my own culture and heritage, I had to spend Christmas in another country to really understand and value my own Christmas traditions.  I enjoyed the holiday traditions of Ecuador as well.  Hope everyone reading this had a nice Christmas, filled with the customs and traditions you know and love.

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