The most striking of these traditions is the creation of large scarecrow like effigies, ´viejos´, to enthusiastically set on fire in the streets at midnight. This is Ecuadorian practice to symbolically bid a resounding adios to ´los años viejos´, the old year. The construction of these dolls is a popular family activity, and includes filling old clothing with sawdust and newspaper until an eerily human-like body shape is formed. An ornately painted mask is then usually fixed on the top for a face. Some effigies are light hearted, with Homer Simpson and Mike Wazowski making frequent appearances in the crowds. Some are modelled in the shape of friends and family, burnt to induce luck and prosperity. And some have a slightly more sinister undertone, representing prominent figures of dislike such as presidents and politicians, and burnt as a way to literally eliminate the bad of the past. On December 31st, Av. Amazonas in Quito´s centre plays host to an array of elaborately constructed dolls, elevated on stages and reflecting the most consequential news stories of the past twelve months. We, along with thousands of others, thronged the street to get a glimpse of the figures, a selection which this year included priests, rock stars, and a creative representation of the ebola crisis. The tradition for burning the dolls is widespread and vibrant, making for an enchanting scene when the clock strikes twelve, with every home burning their own doll and illuminating the street for hours.
On New Year´s Eve in Ecuador it is not uncommon to witness the strange sight of men dressed flamboyantly in women´s clothing, teetering in high heels, walking the streets and begging for money. The participating males, with their coiffed wigs and accentuated curves, call themselves ´el Viudas´; the widows of the men smouldering in the flames. The widows are very insistent and will stridently block the streets until someone pays their toll. As well as creating some bizarre looking scenes, this can prove a highly lucrative exercise for the cross-dressers; my manly male friend donned a tank top and short skirt for three hours and made a little less than $200.
Music and street dance
Ecuador´s dancing spirit, mellow attitude and love of fun combines to heartily welcome the New Year in street dances across the country. I travelled to Cumbaya where a neighbourhood celebration formed in the town square, a scene of general happiness and revelry. Couples swayed to salsa, children laughed and played, fireworks sporadically lit up the sky with blast of silver and red. Amusing dance events were held for the viudas which saw them vigorously shimmying and shaking on stage for a chance to win prizes. DJ sets were performed by local teenagers, and a rowdy competition was held to determine the winner of ´best vijejo in town´ (the victor was he who received the most rambunctious cheers from the crowd). The winning doll was then paraded through the admiring crowds before being burnt to the sound of ardent applause.
Ecuadorians consume twelve grapes upon the stroke of midnight, each representative of one wish for each month of the coming year.
Another widespread belief for New Year is that the shade of your boxers and briefs has a significant impact on your next twelve months. Yellow is worn to bring increased prosperity for the coming year, red to enhance one´s chances of finding passion and love. An array of coloured sets can be seen hanging in street stalls throughout the country waiting to be purchased.
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