Saturday, January 2, 2016

Christmas in Cuenca

I know it's been forever since I did a blog post and there is so much to catch up, but I need to address some questions that have arisen in the last month or so from friends and family back home.

Do they celebrate Christmas in Ecuador? What are you doing for the holidays? I bet there isn't much to do there this time of year.

Au-contraire, my peeps. I've tried to address these questions as they come up, but seeing is believing, right? First, of course they celebrate Christmas! Ecuador like most Latin American countries is predominantly Catholic.

The Alter at Carmen de la Ascuncion

The Christmas season begins here on November 1st. Christmas trees (artificial pine trees or decorated palms, bamboo,etc) are erected and lights go up on the houses. Neighborhood or barrio parades begin happening and you will usually run into at least one a week. The stores are filled with holiday cheer, and on occasion you will find employees of the bigger box stores like Coral decked in elf costumes. On any day you will see multitudes of angels, shepherds and wisemen.

from a parade passing our home.

Schools have an entire day like a field day of Christmas music, dance, and skits.

By the first of December, the city is ablaze in Christmas lights and decorations. Then the real fun begins. There are parties, some hosted at local restaurants or hotels, but many house parties as well.

Parque Calderon in the Center of El Centro

The river is decorated for the event. Yes, there are lit decorations lining the banks, but in the central part of town there are also waves created across the river with blue led lights from one bridge to the next. The parks are decorated, vendors on the streets string Christmas lights from one side to the other.

At Plaza Otorongo, there is a 4 story tall Nativity.  Here are photos from day time and night time. The building behind is four stories tall.

In the Daytime- many Gringos call it the spaceship nativity.

At night, Santa is here to see the children, food carts and vendors line the sidewalk and families come to spend the evening.

There is the Festival of Lights, where literally hundreds of luminaries cover a plaza with music and a church service. This festival began many, many years ago (about 200 if I'm not mistaken) when a visiting priest began the festival to combine church traditions with local traditions. Until a couple of years ago there were thousands of luminaires, but a fire destroyed them and they are being replaced slowly, because each one is hand made. No Oriental Trading company stuff here.

The Festival of Lights takes place at Santa Domingo.

Cuenca hosts a Santa run, a 5k run where the participants and their furry companions run in Santa costumes.
Photo courtesy of El Tiempo

On Christmas Eve, beginning at 10:00 a.m., the Paso Del NiƱo begins. It's a parade that lasts all day, sometimes exceeding eight hours. The newspaper here reported, this year there were 20,000 participants and close to 200,000 observers. A special drink called Chincha is served free. Chincha is a fermented fruit beer and has been provided by the same family in Cuenca for 150 years. I admit to being skeptical especially since I'm not a beer drinker, but wish I had found the booth earlier. It's good stuff...but also has a really high alcohol content. I noticed, even the participants in the parade were drinking their Chincha from the provided cups and a few even had water bottles full. The costumes, dancing and music in the parade are fabulous. But the spirit isn't lost. Despite incorporations from the West such as Minions, Winnie-the-Pooh, Santas and elves, there is a very reverent feel to the parade. The parade celebrates the baby Jesus. Children are the main focus with babies in strollers decorated for the occasion, and many participants carrying tiny to life size replicas of the Baby Jesus, swaddled in blankets and many times held close to their hearts as they march the parade route.

Parade photos at the end of the blog. There were over 300 to choose from, my two favorites are first for those of you who don't want to view them all.

The entirety of the El Centro district is filled with food vendors, and vendors selling their crafts. It was a most festive time.

The difference in the mood here is that it is not commercially driven, gifts are given, Santa visits, but it's much more laid back than in the U.S. It's not frantic. People are friendly, happy, relaxed. It's okay to tell everyone Feliz Navidad and share a hug. Jesus is the Reason for the season.

These last two Christmas' have been hard. They are the only ones I was not with my son and family. There was no frantic rush to shop for gifts, no major cleaning of the house, no planning days worth of meals to fit all the different diets, no houseful of company, including sometimes more dogs than humans, no ironing of tablecloths, polishing of silver. No fierce Uno games, no watching of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. No heirloom ornaments on the tree. But it WAS a joyful time, a true celebration, a reboot for the soul, spent with many new friends making new traditions.

I love and miss you all and thank you for time out of your holidays for the many phone and video calls.

Hugs (Abrazos)!

The baby alpaca decked out for the event walked the parade, as long as abuela with the bottle was in front of her.

This couple was so mesmerizing to watch dance, I totally forgot to take a photo. This photo is graciously shared with permission from my friend Joss Burnel, who captured them beautifully!

Yep, that's a German Shepherd reindeer pulling a sled and drinking water from a water bottle.

 Happy 2016, I pray your new year is full of  hope, fun, adventure, love, health and peace.
Scarlett in Cuenca, Living the good life!