New Years in Ecuador: Effigies, Bonfires, and Fireworks
Yellow underwear. 12 grapes. A suitcase. An effigy with a mask. Men dressed up as Chola Cuencanas (Cuencana grandmothers). These are only a handful of the rituals that make up New Year’s Eve in Ecuador.
Around the country, the night before the New Year, Ecuadorians will be celebrating visibly. In fact, celebrations often happen before the actual holiday. In the weeks leading up to El Año Nuevo, the New Year, shops sell masks of all different sizes and expressions. The mask is an important element of New Year. Typically, Ecuadorians see New Year as an opportunity to eliminate the bad habits of the past year and start with a clean slate. To do so, they will select a mask that represents their personal vices. Perhaps the mask is related to drinking, or smoking, or greed. The mask is only the top part of the effigy, however. The rest of the body can be bought at stores or made from hay, grass, leaves and old clothes. These figures are about half the height of an adult, and they are perfected and prepared for New Year’s Eve. Their fate: a pyre of fire.
Some people do start the celebrations early though, burning effigies in the streets in the days leading up to the 31st. Effigies aren’t always personal. They can be of leaders or politicians as well. Men and women gather around, light the effigy on fire, and clap and celebrate. But on the actual night of celebration, the Eve of the New Year, the festivities are heightened.
Ecuadorians say you should wear yellow underwear for good luck or red underwear for love, whichever is more important to you in the year that comes. The stores are all full of yellow underwear, for men and women, so that everyone will be properly prepared for the 31st. Ecuadorians also say you should eat 12 grapes, 1 for every month of the year, so that you will have good health. If you want to travel, a suitcase and running around the bonfire of the burning effigy is the prescribed ritual. Many of the Cuencano men will use the evening as a chance to borrow their mothers’ or grandmothers’ clothing, dress up in skirts and wigs of long braids, and run around town demanding money from innocent passerby. They even block streets with a rope and ask for coins from every car, or bicyclist, that passes. All is done in the name of festivity, of tradition, of letting go of the past to welcome the new.