In this 4th installment of our series on Christmas in South America, we will give you a glimpse into how Christmas is celebrated in Ecuador. A small country situated between Peru and Colombia, Ecuador includes part of the Amazon Jungle, the Andes Mountains, and the beautiful Pacific coastline, off of which are found the world-famous wildlife haven, the Galápagos Islands.
If you find yourself there for Christmas, you may have the good fortune of getting the opportunity to witness Ecuador’s elaborate Christmas pageant, the Pase del Niño Viajero, (The Passage of the Travelling Child). This celebration had its charming beginning in the early 1960s, when a statue of el Niño Jesus, the Christ Child, was brought to Rome to receive blessings from the Pope. When the statue was brought back to Ecuador, a voice was heard yelling from the gathered audience, “The traveler has returned!” The statue was forthwith known as the Niño Viajero, the Child Traveler.
Beginning in the first week of December, many processions and parades commemorate Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, but the most festive celebration takes place on December 24th. In the popular mountain village of Cuenca, crowds line the streets in anticipation of the pageant that includes elaborately decorated floats, brilliantly costumed musicians and dancers, and barnyard animals like llamas and horses. The most ornate float of all bears the statue of the Christ Child, who is brought to the Catedral de la Inmaculada, Church of the Immaculate, for ceremonies honoring Jesus’ birth.
As in many countries in South America, Ecuadoreans create pesebres, or nativity scenes, as their main Christmas decoration. Pesebres may get very elaborate indeed, with miniature figures of people, animals, and homes. Some of these scenes even have live plants and greenery covering hand-molded hills and valleys, with water running through in simulation of creeks and rivers! They all include figures of the Holy Family and the Christ Child in the manger. Ecuadoreans also celebrate the Novenas, the nine days leading up to Christmas, with gatherings, prayers, and hymns at the homes of different families that may belong to a church community. Novena celebrations include festive food items like hot chocolate and sweets.
Ecuador has also adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree in the main square in recent decades, and there are ongoing competitions among small villages and towns as to which has the tallest tree. The southern city of Machala had a 33-meter tall tree (108 feet!) lit with more than 10,000 lights that won the competition a few years ago.
Traditional Christmas Eve or Nochebuena foods include a roasted turkey or chicken, wine or chicha (fermented corn beer), rice dishes with cheese, and various salads. A favorite Ecuadorean Christmas beverage is rompope, similar to eggnog, but with more liquor! Ecuadoreans often use aguardiente, which is liquor distilled from sugar cane, instead of rum. Here’s a recipe.
After the Christmas meal, which is consumed on December 24th, Ecuadoreans stream in large numbers to attend the Misa de Gallo, the midnight mass, so-named because it goes into the wee hours and may end with the first rooster crow of the morning.
Christmas lists for desired presents may be placed in old shoes and left at the side of the beds of family members. In the morning, Papa Noel, or Santa Claus (a relatively recent figure in Ecuador’s Christmas celebrations) may bring a new pair of shoes along with the presents from the list.
Thus ends our series on Christmas around South America. Would you like to celebrate Christmas as they do in Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia? Make sure to contact us early in the year, as this is a busy time to travel, and we will be delighted to arrange a journey that will immerse you and your family in the beauty and magic of a South American Christmas in the near future.