Curious about Ecuadorian rituals, superstitions and traditions? From Jesus pageants to pelting visitors during Carneval, here are a few unique traditions in Ecuador that might surprise you.
Unique Traditions in Ecuador
1. Dressing up baby Jesus on Christmas Day
Like most countries in South America, Ecuadorians maintain many Christmas traditions, but this one is particularly unusual. Ecuadorians buy dolls at Christmas time and dress them up to look like Baby Jesus. Instead of adding them to the Nativity Scenes set up across the country and in most people’s homes, they hide them away until Christmas Eve at midnight.
Huge Nativity parades take place across the country too. El Pase del Niño takes place between mid-December and Christmas Eve and involves a procession of baby Jesus statues, as well as music, dancing and singing. Cuenca hosts the largest Christmas pageant, starting in the early morning and running until late in the afternoon.
2. A burning effigy to mark the new year
One of Ecuador’s most famous traditions at New Year is the iconic burning effigy. Known locally as the Año Viejo tradition, people spend the week leading up to New Year’s Eve making manigotes (effigies) from papier-mache and fireworks. These usually imitate unpopular politicians and celebrities, like Donald Trump. They leave the effigies outside their houses and in the town squares. Then, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, they torch them. The idea is that, as you burn the effigy, you burn away your old demons, thus leaving space for happiness and prosperity in the future. Traditionally, you should jump on the flames 12 times too, though this obviously comes with its own fire hazards.
3. Or why not dress up as a widow?
Viudas de Año Nuevo, which means ‘Widow of the Old Year, is another kooky Ecuadorian tradition. Ahead of New Years’ Day, men across the country dress up as drag to impersonate widowed women, by stuffing their clothes with balloons and slapping on lots of make-up. Since most of the effigies are men, there are a lot of widows around according to tradition. Then, they take to the streets in droves to ask for money from cars on the streets. This is pooled together in a communal pot for a huge New Year’s Eve party. Some widows make as much as $200 in one pop, which isn’t to be sniffed at.
4. Turning 15 is a pretty big deal (if you’re a girl)
Sort of like a Latino version of a Sweet Sixteen, the Quinceañera marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood. In most of Latin America, parts of the Caribbean and certain communities in the United States, the ‘Quince Anos’ involves a huge celebration. It kicks off with a mass, followed by a reception with lots of food, drinks and dancing. It’s rich in traditions too, such as the first father-daughter dance, where the father gives his daughter her first pair of high heels.
In Ecuador, the traditions are similar to those in Colombia. Usually, the birthday girl enjoys a waltz with her father, followed by a Quinceañera dance with her brother. While other Latin American cultures prescribe a white dress, in Ecuador they wear light or pastel coloured dresses with a tiara. There will also be a ‘crazy’ hour, where guests don marks, wigs and go wild.
5. Carneval? Time to pelt some participants!
Ecuador isn’t unique in celebrating Carneval. This celebratory season originally marked the last moment of freedom before the solemn forty-day religious observance of Lent. Participants would celebrate with music, good food, parades, performance and other fun activities banned by the Catholic Church for the month. So far, so familiar? Well, Ecuadorians put their own unique twist on the celebrations. They pelt participants (and total strangers) with water balloons, water pistols, buckets, and even eggs! It’s messy but totally traditional.
6. Trying to get pregnant? Don’t miss these festivals
San Pedro and San Pablo festivities both take place on June 29th in Cayambe, Cotacachi and Chimborazo. These regional celebrations involve huge bonfires lit on the streets. Women hoping to become pregnant are encouraged to jump over the fires. Others dance down the street carrying roosters for the “delivery of roosters”.
7. Day of the Dead
Ecuadorians keep their own traditions around Day of the Dead, which takes place on the 1st and 2nd of November. The ancient belief holds that souls visit their mortal relatives during these days, so families should leave out plenty of food and drink for them to tuck into while they’re on earth. In Ecuador, this includes horse-shaped breads to help the spirits get back on their way.
Living relatives will adorn a tomb with the deceased’s favourite drink and food. Once the spirit has visited, the family celebrate with a huge glass of Colada Morada, a sweet purple drink.