Azogues - Part 3 (New Year's Eve)
For New Year’s Eve we were very fortunate to be invited to join our Airbnb hosts, Maria Jose and Pablo, to celebrate the end of the old and the start of the new.
After meeting up, we took a short ride to the downtown area of Azogues where the evening literally started off with a bang. Fireworks were exploding all over the place and no one gave it more than a passing thought. That is because fireworks are legal in Ecuador, easy to obtain and no one cares when or where you set them off.
Beyond the firecrackers and rockets, it was obvious that New Year’s Eve was celebrated by just about everyone who lives in this city of 40,000. Young or old, it really didn’t matter. There were bands, music and spontaneous dancing in the streets, and of course a considerable amount of booze was available to consume.
One of the fun things that Azogues does each year is award a prize to the group who builds the most interesting display made out of cardboard and paper. Most of the displays had a distinctly political theme. Some displays expressed pointed comments about the current government and other displays mocked the things politicians have said and done. There was one very elaborate display that made fun of the close relationship the current government had developed with China, and how all of the weapons the army had recently purchased were made in China. There was also a display that had some unflattering caricatures of our president-elect. At the end of the evening the displays were taken down and burned to symbolize “out with the old and in with the new”.
After walking the streets, dancing a bit, and enjoying a couple beers it was on to the next phase of our evening. We went to the home of Pablo’s uncle where we again enjoyed great food, more intoxicating beverages, dancing, and general merriment.
Being around Pablo’s family you immediately got the impression that they are very close and truly enjoy spending time with one another. They seemed more like best friends than family members. When the clock struck midnight, the members of the family made it a point to give everyone a warm embrace and wish them Happy New Year.
After midnight we were treated to another tradition that is very interesting and common in this part of Ecuador. Prior to New Year’s Eve a couple members of the family were selected who had a particularly auspicious year. For each individual selected, an effigy of the person is created out of paper mache and other easily burnable materials. These effigies are on display until the midnight hour when they are then taken to the street in front of the house, put into a pile, and burned. Shortly after midnight all over the city streets there could be seen bonfires where the likenesses of family members were consumed. For good luck the tradition is to jump over the fire as it is burning. Since all of us had a bit too much to drink, our jumps weren’t very graceful.
The next morning, somehow I managed to get up and walk to the downtown area to witness another holiday tradition. Each New Year's Day the Catholic Church brings out religious relics and lead a procession with them through town.
Maria Jose and Pablo and their families could not have been kinder and more welcoming to us during our stay in Azogues. They made us feel like we were valued members of their families. We hope to visit Azogues on our return trip to say hello to our new friends.