Ecuadorians have a thing about New Years-it’s a big deal! Set apart from the celebrations in Times Square and in the bars, pubs, and restaurants around the world- the traditions of ushering in the New Year in the small Andean country take the celebration to the streets.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, effigies of national and international politicians, celebrities, and cartoon characters appear outside the houses and gathering places of the cities and small towns of the diverse country. Donald Trump dressed in jeans and old button-down shirts, Sponge Bob, Speed Racer, and Shrek quietly appear out of the blue streetside-stuffed with paper and waiting for the evening before the New Year to arrive.
The life-sized mannequins represent the año Viejo or the old year. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the puppets are set on fire, representing the passing of the trials and tribulations of the previous year and welcoming in the future. Tradition dictates that you jump over the fire twelve times to ensure happiness and prosperity in the coming year.
The ritual started with tragedy. In 1895, a yellow fever epidemic hit Guayaquil, devastating the port city. Family members stuffed coffins with the clothes of the dead and set them a light, symbolizing purification from the disease and new beginnings.
A few other traditions of New Years in Ecuador include:
Viudas de Año Nuevo translates to “the widow of the old year.” Men dressed in drag with balloons accentuating their figures take to the streets and stop traffic-asking for small change before letting commuters continue on with their day.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, families gather and eat twelve grapes-a- a European tradition that symbolizes the twelve apostles.
A lighthearted tradition on New Years is to wear yellow or red underwear. Vendors crowd the streets selling the undergarments-thought to bring good luck, prosperity, and love in the coming twelve months.
While there is hardly a need for a holiday to light off dazzling displays of fireworks in Ecuador, New Year’s Eve brings out a blitz of color exploding in the skies in the major cities, in the mountains, along with the coast, and in the Galapagos Islands. While there are major displays in Quito and Guayaquil, the real show starts after midnight where hundreds of small displays erupt in the neighborhoods around the country-often lasting into the wee hours of New Year’s Day.
In the major cities across the country, and starting in the days leading up to the New Year, teens take to the streets to block traffic. Using a rope or chain, groups of youngsters halt traffic, car by car, and demand a small toll before letting down the line.
Other Ecuadorian New Year’s traditions are running around the block with an empty suitcase-a ritual that signals future travel; carrying a pocketful of lentils during the countdown to welcome an abundance of fortune, and lighting different colored candles- blue for peace, red for passion, yellow for abundance, and orange for intelligence.
The next time you are looking for a different place to celebrate the New Year, instead of the crowded Times Square and the more traditional bars, pubs, and restaurants, why not try something new? At Happy Gringo we invite you to come to Ecuador and celebrate New Year’s eve and make it a tradition, we are sure you are not going to regret it.