With the new year approaching, prepare yourself to live it the Ecuadorian way. The following are traditions that are celebrated to close the year and welcome the next one.
El Año Viejo or Monigote
Here in Ecuador, to represent the letting go of this present year, we take asserín (sawdust) and fill old clothes to create a figure that resembles a body which is finished by putting a mask as the head. This figure represents the old year, and on Jan 1st 12:00 am, we set it on fire. This tradition is popular among families, as they gather to build their own “año viejo” (old year). While several años viejos or monigotes are constructed with the traditional masks which are given meaning by the family themselves, it has become increasingly popular to burn the figurines of hated politicians, superheroes and cartoon characters. Cartoon characters have become fun for families with children, who burn the año viejo in sake of tradition, but burning a political figure has become a manifestation of wanting to “eliminate” this character, hoping he/she won’t be around for the next year.
As you drive through the streets you will notice the colorful masks and monigotes lined along the sidewalk, waiting to be chosen by a family for this festive celebration. In some places, public and private institutions organize monigote contests where they vote for the best doll in the bunch!
As the clock signals midnight, families begin torching their dolls and this scene is fantastic. Everywhere you look there are años viejos burning in the black night, as families dance and celebrate and hug each other, wishing one another a great year to come. In places such as Salinas or Guayaquil, groups of people gather to build huge monigotes which make for a great bonfire in the night.
But that is not all… once the doll is up in flames, another tradition consists on jumping over it, through the flames! This ritual has ancestral origins, since the cultures that precede us used fire in their ceremonies.
This New Year don’t forget to buy or make your own life size doll to burn at midnight! Interpretation is up to you! It can be someone you love, hate, or just a character you find entertaining.
Men dressed as women, known as “the widows” take the streets during New Year. If you are leaving the city you will probably drive by a few of these groups of women, who will come up to your window and ask you to give them a generous donation.
Watch out because they can get pretty insistent, dancing in front of cars wearing their big hair and heels, until they receive some pocket money. While it can get frustrating, it is also very entertaining to watch them dance and embrace all their drama, as they sometimes pretend to cry for a loss.
And what do they do with the pocket money? Probably get some beer!
Las 12 Uvas
If you’re going to welcome the New Year well, then you must have grapes. Another tradition that is very popular here is eating 12 grapes when the clock strikes 12. Why 12? Before they were supposed to represent the 12 apostles but nowadays, each grape symbolizes a wish.
“I want to be happy” Eat a grape.
“I want to be successful” Eat a grape.
This tradition consists on picking the color of your underwear to ask for something of the new year. Yellow symbolizes luck and prosperity while wearing red stands for love and passion. Whether you want to find love or you want to succeed professionally, you can choose your panties accordingly!
For all those who wish to travel in this upcoming year: don’t forget to bring a suitcase for the celebrations! While some are eating grapes, jumping over the monigote, or even trying to complete all of the traditions, those of us who love to travel will be seen running with an empty suitcase around the house. It gives you a little rush of adrenaline to run around with the bags, asking the universe to send you adventures for the next year. Some even take it to another level and run around the block!
While this tradition is not always embraced and often overlooked, it is very entertaining.. Some families write wills for their monigote, and then recite them in front of the people who have gathered to watch it burn. These testaments composed in a funny and even sarcastic prose are supposedly written by the monigote, who tells every member of the family what he/she has left for them to enjoy.
Example: For Felipe, who broke his foot this year, I leave a crutch, so that he can continue to walk the path he has ahead.
For Martina who is always complaining about her car, I leave a few dollars so that she can take the bus and get where she needs to go without having to drive that horrible car.
Andddd.. here in Ecuador we never run out of things to burn. To close the year, some people choose to write a list of all of the things that they want to eliminate. It can be anger, a bad job, a stressful period or anything that you won’t be needing anymore. Once you are done with your list, watch it go on flames as you throw it with the monigote and say goodbye to all of the things that haven’t done you well.
Fireworks are also a big part of the Ecuadorian New Year! No matter where you choose to spend it, you will be amazed by the colorful and loud explosions of light in the black night, welcoming the new year.
Different families choose to celebrate some traditions and leave out others, but the tradition that doesn’t change is that New Years is a time to share, to eat together, to wish each other a great future, to forgive those who wronged you this year and to wish that the new year brings you closer together with those who have been apart.