Christmas in Ecuador can most easily be described by one word: Warm. Not just the weather in December is one of the warmest of the year, but the Christmas celebrations and traditions bring family and friends closer together and strength faith.
The Christmas season in this predominantly Catholic country is a mix of religious and family celebrations and start before December with masses, novenas, seasonal activities and Christmas lights and decorations. The pesebre (quite elaborate displays of the traditional scenes of the Nativity) and the Christmas tree may be the most important symbols of the Ecuadorean Christmas and perfectly display the combination of traditional and modern during the season.
There are many more practices and traditions that make the Christmas season in Ecuador a special one for locals and visitors.
Novena is a Catholic tradition that helps devotees to prepare for the birth of Christ. 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 tradition similar 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.
Christmas Parades and processionals
There are several Christmas parades and processionals in the country. “Pase del Nino” is a parade that celebrates the birth of Jesus. The largest one is in Cuenca, the “Pase del Nino Viajero” parade illustrates scenes of the Nativity story with music, dance, animals and colorful displays. “El nino” is carried in a special float for several city blocks till it reaches the Cathedral de la Inmaculada where it is 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. The traditional time to start Misa de Gallo is 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. December 25th is more a day to rest and charge energies for the next event coming up: end-of-the-year celebrations.
Many countries in the world celebrate King’s Day on this day, however, this is not a big event in Ecuador. It is only the date where the Christmas season is over and decorations, lights, tree and pesebre need to be put away.