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Friends often ask me about Christmas in Ecuador and the traditions that we have during this time of the year. As I think about them, thousand miles away from my home country, I want to say that Christmas in Ecuador always meant faith, family, food and friends.
Christmas Trees and Nativity Sets
Christmas season usually kicks off in early November when families and businesses start embellishing their walls with decorations and displaying their Christmas trees and nativity sets which are the most important symbols of the Ecuadorean Christmas. These two elements perfectly show the combination of traditional and modern elements of the Christmas in Ecuador.
Ecuador is a predominantly Catholic country, so the Christmas season is a mix of religious and family celebrations that start a little before December with Novena, a Catholic tradition that helps devotees to prepare for the birth of Christ.
During Novena (known as Las Posadas in Mexico,) families and friends get together for nine days to pray, read bible verses and sing villancicos around the pesebre. Novena starts on the 15th of December and ends on Christmas Eve.
Amigo Secreto is a similar game to Secret Santa where people exchange presents. Although there are many ways to do it, the most popular version consists of sending anonymous gifts to a specific person inside the group (that has been previously assigned by a drawing.)
The final present exchange takes place on Christmas Eve when the true identity of the secret giver is revealed. I remember how much I loved playing this game at school! It was very fun trying to figure out who left you the funny note or silly gift by your belongings.
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There are several Christmas parades and processionals in Ecuador. In Cuenca, the“Pase del Niño Viajero“ parade illustrates scenes of the Nativity story with music, dance, animals and colorful displays. “El niño” is carried in a special float for several city blocks till it reaches the Cathedral de la Inmaculada where it’s taken inside for religious services.
Misa de Gallo
On Christmas Eve, Catholic families attend the traditional Christmas mass where the birth of Jesus is celebrated. They often bring their ceramic figurines of the Christ child from their pesebre so the priest can bless them. Misa de Gallo usually starts at midnight but for safety concerns, the time has moved to early evening hours.
On Christmas Eve, families get together and enjoy the cena de nochebuena (the big family dinner). The exchange of presents are usually at midnight when “El Nino Jesus” or “Papa Noel” (Santa) have brought the gifts. After kids are put to bed, adults stayed up all night dancing and drinking.
Cena de Nochebuena
The 24th of December dinner traditionally includes turkey, ham along with many side dishes. The most popular is arroz navideño (christmas rice) a yellow rice mix with small slices of ham, almonds, raisins, green olives,etc. Other sides consist of relleno de pavo (a mix of meats, fresh and dry fruits, nuts and wine,) ensalada waldorf (a salad made of apples, celery and walnuts, dressed in mayonnaise, ensalada rusa (this salad has potatoes, carrots, apples, celery, onions, peas and dressed in mayonnaise).
Ronpope, an eggnog-like drink is usually served in the Cena de Nochebuena. “Tronco navideño, a chocolate cake is also very popular on this ocassion. And can’t forget about the delicious pan de pascua or panettone and pristiños.
Christmas Day is more a day to relax, sleep in and recover from the festivities of the night before. Some families go to morning mass and others visit local touristic attractions or attend a smaller party.
Many countries in the world celebrate King’s Day, however, this is not a big event in Ecuador. I always felt this was the date where the Christmas season is over and decorations, lights, tree and the nativity set were put away.