Ecuador, Christmas in

Ecuador, Christmas in

In Ecuador Christmas begins with Advent, a season rich in customs and celebrations. As Christmas draws near, town officials close off certain streets in order to make space for street vendors selling Christmas sweets and trinkets. Many people begin collecting toys, used clothes, and candy to give to poorer families so that their children will also have Christmas presents to open.


Employees eagerly await the customary Christmas party, as well as the Christmas bonus, or aguinaldo, which employers are legally required to give to workers. Parades of people dressed as Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Three Kings (see also Magi) file through workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. People without costumes follow, carrying candles and singing Christmas carols.

Religious Observances

A nine-day Christmas novena (a series of special prayer services offered on nine consecutive days) begins on December 16 and lasts until December 24. These sessions of prayer and song offer occasions for family and friends to spend the evening at one another's homes. In addition, Nativity scenes appear in churches, homes, schools, and workplaces at this time. Some of these locations sponsor competitions for the best Nativity scene. Many families also add a Christmas tree to their home decorations.

Christmas Eve

Churches hold Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but many people prefer to spend the evening at home with loved ones. Ecuadorian folklore asserts that Jesus was born at the stroke of midnight, and many people choose to spend this special hour at home with family (see also Misa de Gallo). Those assembled at home count down the last moments before midnight, and, on the stroke of twelve, exchange hugs with all present. In the past families sat down to a large meal just after midnight (see also Réveillon). Nowadays, however, many dine some time before midnight. A traditional Christmas dinner might offer roast chicken, stuffed turkey, or roast pork. Pristiños, or molasses pastries, usually complete the meal. Many also serve canelazo, a sweet hot beverage made by heating water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and liquor together. Traditionally, Ecuadorians open their Christmas gifts after dinner on Christmas Eve.

Ecuador's most spectacular parade, the Pase del Niño Viajero, takes place in the city of Cuenca on the morning of December 24. Participants ride in cars, trucks, or on donkeys, each decorated with emblems of abundance. These emblems range from paper money to bunches of fruit to bottles of liquor and roasted meats. Bands of folk musicians as well as biblically costumed children round out the procession.

Holy Innocents' Day and Epiphany

The festivities continue on December 28, Holy Innocents' Day. People celebrate with costume parties and practical jokes. These jokes, called inocentadas, usually revolve around prank phone calls or fake candies. Costumed pranksters may parade openly down the main streets of towns and cities. The Christmas season ends with Epiphany on January 6.

Further Reading

Clynes, Tom. Wild Planet! Detroit, Mich.: Visible Ink Press, 1995. Wakefield, Charito Calvachi. Navidad Latinoamericana, Latin AmericanChristmas. Lancaster, Pa.: Latin American Creations Publishing, 1997.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003