The Spirit of Christmas in Ecuador

It is Christmas morning, and my wife Cynthia and I are celebrating the joyous occasion with our daughter’s family in New Jersey. Tomorrow we fly to North Carolina to do it all over again in the home of our son.

When we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago we had no grandchildren. In the space of 19 short months we experienced our own private “baby boom” and today we have three (and counting?). Christmas is really all about the kids, isn’t it, so we now come back to the States to be with our loved ones each holiday season.

Early on we spent a memorable Christmas at home in Cuenca I’d like to share with you. Thanksgiving is obviously not a biggie there (although expats attend various gatherings all over town), but Christmas is celebrated in high style. Malls, markets, and public spaces are colorfully decorated, although the theme is generally more religious than the commercial extravaganza the holiday has become in the States.

Nowhere is this more evident than the annual Christmas Eve parade, which organizers claim is the largest in Latin America. Clocking in at over eight hours it must certainly be the longest! A seemingly endless procession of floats from neighborhoods in and around Cuenca carry children dressed to depict the nativity scene.

There are also cars and horses decorated with flowers, produce, beer cans and liquor bottles, even plucked chickens with money in their beaks…bands, dancers, and street performers…plus assorted characters like Santa, Bart Simpson, and SpongeBob wandering by.

We watched this somewhat bizarre extravaganza from the balcony of a friend’s home located directly on the parade route á la Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Memorable, yes, but we couldn’t hang in there from start to finish.

On Christmas Day, Cuencano friends kindly invited us to spend the day with their family. We were amazed that they had hired a priest to deliver Mass for the entire neighborhood in the front yard of their home. Afterwards we handed out wrapped presents to all the children and drank an unfamiliar beverage with one familiar ingredient—alcohol.

Cynthia then joined the women in the kitchen to help prepare the big meal while I hung out with the guys for an afternoon session of chatting and drinking. As best I can remember there must have been a siesta in there somewhere before the meal was served!

Returning home after enjoying the day’s camaraderie and feast, we reflected on the notion that regardless of your religious persuasion or physical location, the spirit of the holiday season is all about love, giving, and thankfulness.

My wife and I are thrilled to be with our immediate family during these holidays, and doubly blessed to soon return to a loving extended family of close friends in Cuenca. We are truly grateful to be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

I close this message with a Christmas toast to you:  May your heart be filled with joy today, and may happiness await you in the New Year ahead.

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