As we exited the Guayaquil airport the smell of what seemed like burned gunpowder hit our nostrils. Loud explosions were going off all around. Although it was late at night, riding in our van to the hotel Cynthia and I observed that the streets were filled with people. And everywhere we looked the darkness was illuminated by burning fires. Our driver had to divert his route to avoid several of them.
What was happening? A riot? A revolution?
We laughed as we listened to loud salsa music on the radio and watched a panorama of fireworks across the harbor. It was New Year’s Eve in Ecuador and we had by chance emerged from the airport at the stroke of midnight.
Talk about an exciting welcome home!
Seeing fireworks was certainly not a novel experience. In the US such displays are only enjoyed on New Year’s and the Fourth of July. From our windows in Cuenca there is hardly a week that goes by that we don’t observe fireworks in the night sky somewhere in the city. Another holiday we don’t know about? Perhaps a wedding celebration? We’re never sure.
And those fires? Effigy burning is a major part of celebrating New Year’s here. The idea is that the effigy contains all the bad things from the year just passed, and burning it ensures that they won’t happen again.
You see effigies for sale throughout the cities of Ecuador for days prior to the big night. They are filled with sawdust and newspaper plus a few small fireworks. It is important that they burn completely or the negative mojo will continue to plague you in the coming year.
Many Ecuadorians jump back and forth over the burning effigies 12 times for luck. Others hope to increase their luck by throwing coins (for wealth) or rice (for plenty of food) into the fire.
In addition to anonymous effigies you may see the likenesses of political figures, Homer Simpson, or the Smurfs. And some of them are surprisingly well-dressed. One of my fashion-conscious friends bought one last year that had on a snappier outfit than what I was wearing.
I was like, “You’re burning that shirt?? What size is it?”
I relish many things about living in Ecuador. One of them is the unabashed love of life here, and the energy put into New Year’s Eve festivities is a great example. Ecuadorians’ enthusiasm for their many holidays and festivals is a reminder to loosen up, have fun, and be active participants in our lives.
What did you do on New Year’s Eve? Attend an over-priced event at a restaurant or club? Watch “The Ball” drop on TV? Go to bed early?
Sounds like you need more fireworks in your life. Maybe next New Year’s Eve we can jump over your burning Papa Smurf together here in Ecuador.
No, get Homer Simpson instead. The Smurfs didn’t wear shirts.