Happy Holidays

Christmas (and more) in Cuenca

Sorry to take so long to get up my Holiday post; but, you know how time flies when you’re having fun (or are bombed a lot)‼


In the week leading up to Christmas, there were a few concerts and some store windows were decorated for the event. However, for the most part it was business as usual. One afternoon and evening I took my camera along in hopes of snagging some good pictures but here was nothing much of a holiday nature on offer.

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Then, on Christmas Eve, all hell broke loose (if you can say that in respect of Christmas).

At 10 a.m. the day before Christmas, a parade began that lasted about 8 hours. It started about half a block from my apartment and made its way to Parque Calderón (the historic centre of Cuenca and a little over 1 kilometre from me). The parade lasted about 7 of 8 hours. This phenomenal event includes around 50,000 participants represented in community and family groups and floats as well as bands, dancers, riders on horseback and people who just want to join in.

I have created a slide show of some of the pictures I took.


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Another feature of my Christmas was the holiday dinner I enjoyed as a guest of my landlord and his family. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures because I wasn’t sure whether a camera was appropriate given that I would be a stranger to almost everyone there. But, I can tell you about it. First of all, I am still learning about timing in South America. I was told that the party started at 6 p.m. I wanted to be fashionably late so I turned up at 6:30 p.m. – everyone else came at 8 p.m. or later. In the intervening 2 hours, his wife and sister were immersed in dinner preparation and arranging tables and chairs. Fortunately, the landlord’s brother-in-law was there early and he spoke some English. Even the landlord didn’t turn up until almost 8 p.m. Once everyone was present, a huge North American holiday dinner of roast turkey, lasagna, vegetables and deserts was set out and everyone helped themselves. Liquor flowed and everyone was having a great time. Of course, by midnight, I had been at it for 6 hours (everyone else was 4 hours or fewer). I excused myself and crashed.

Año Nuevo

Celebrations continued all week in one form or another. Parties, fireworks, you-just-about-name-it. A few days before the rollover from ’14 to ’15 masks and effigies go on sale. This is a very big business and stores and street stalls flood the market. Anyone with a few dollars to spare can mix and match their own special persona. Many make a family project of it and create the effigy at home from scratch.

One source says the practice actually started when the bubonic plague was rampant in Europe and here in South America.  At night the bodies and all of the bed linen and clothes of those who had died from the plague were burned in the street to get rid of the evil and stem the advance of the plague.

Now, it has evolved in to the symbolic. The owner imagines all of the bad things that happened in his or her life in the last year. They project that onto the effigy and then, what else, they burn it. That, symbolically, gets rid of all of the bad and begins the next year without baggage.  Well, I guess that will have to do until another plague.

Of course, the North American sensibility is that to be burned in effigy is terrible. It’s an insult if it’s your likeness. It implies that someone wants to destroy you. Since they can’t actually burn the non-effigy you, they send a message through the substitute‼

Here, effigy burning is the incendiary shank of the evening. You party up to it, during and following it. Another neat tradition is that for extra karmic credits, you wait until an effigy is really blazing and then leap through the flames. And there are a lot of subtle digs. (there were a lot of Obama’s and not a few Rafael Correa’s – the president of Ecuador).

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Canadians might think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper or former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford have many evils associated to them that could use expiation, but, would burning their effigy truthfully be more about wishing them a clean slate in 2015, or burning them symbolically when the real thing is still held to be criminal?

In many ways, New Year’s celebrations here are about taking to the streets. And yes, there is dancing in the streets:


But, house parties are plentiful as are private effigy burnings, lots of food and drink, of course, and an epidemic scale of exploding of legal and illegal fireworks.

In my case, after wandering the streets with my camera I returned to my landlord’s apartment with about twenty others and started in. Roast pork of the lip-smacking variety, followed by BBQ’d chicken wings (to cleanse the palate) and all the varieties of drink you can imagine await the reveller on entry. Again, I was told 9 p.m. – showed up at 10 p.m. and was at least an hour-and-a-half early. When will I ever learn?


Feliz Navidad y Año Nuevo