Day 273: Cuenca, Ecuador
One of the things I love about Ecuador is that every holiday has a set of traditions that are so different from my own. New Year’s Eve is no exception.
A slight twist on things, Ecuadorians focus more on the passing of the old year in preparation for the new year. With the warm December weather it means there are a lot of people in the streets to celebrate with a number of traditions and superstitions.
1) Año Viejo
The central figure of New Year’s Eve, Ecuadorians create an effigy to burn that evening. The dummy traps all the bad things from that year and burning ensures that those things do not happen again.
I have thought about modeling one after Whatsherface but turns out that it does bring good luck to the subject as the effigies make fun of them but are not malicious enough to literally mean that you want them to burn in hell.
In many neighborhoods it’s an enormous competition and the models are often important events from the previous year, often politics so last year focused on the new constitution bringing too much power to the president and this year it’s likely that I’ll see puppets representing the recent attempted coup in Quito or the new educational system.
The puppets are filled with sawdust or newspaper and some firecrackers, beaten and burned before midnight. It’s important that they are burned completely or else the bad situations that were tormenting you and your family that year will return in the New Year to bother you again.
In Cuenca and Quito the Año Viejo is about making fun to amuse people. In Guayaquil it becomes even bigger, with people creating Monigotes which are often 9 meters in size and besting each other, so it’s not uncommon to see Gene Simmons or other movie stars or cartoons.
2) Jumping over the fire 12 times
Many Ecuadorians jump over the fire once for every month to bring good luck. However, the fire gets pretty big so you have to be brave, and fit as it takes a lot of energy to make it completely over all 12 times.
3) 12 grapes
From the Spanish heritage, this tradition is also in other Latin American countries and the Philippines. Ecuadorians eat a grape for every wish per month (i.e. January lose weight, february find love etc).
4) Coloured panties
Women wear coloured underwear on New Year’s Eve to bring them luck for the year. Red is supposed to bring love, yellow brings wealth.
5) Gifts to the fire
Locals throw coins into the fire to bring them financial luck for the year and rice into the fire to make sure they will have an abundance of food on the table.
6) Widow of the Old Year
Neighborhood children get together and select one of the boys of the group to dress up as the widow. They then set barriers for cars to stop and ask for coins for the “oldie.” The widow weeps that their loved one passed and they have no money.
If the car does not give up change to their neighbors kid, the children do not release the rope barrier although this rarely happens as the kids are happy even with only a few cents.
It’s a funny tradition and the kids usually walk away with a chunk of change. Some adults do this but it gets a bit creepy that point and the kids generally make more money.
So for New Year’s I’ve decided to choose yellow underwear for money over love but I still haven’t decided what my dummy will be or any of the 12 wishes. Any suggestions?