View of the Virgin of Quito from Old Town

Christmas in Cuenca

By Savannah I. Whaley
View of the Virgin of Quito from Old Town By Savannah I. Whaley

This year, my family and I spent Christmas in Cuenca and New Year’s in Quito, Ecuador. Both cities are full of cathedrals and Spanish-style colonial architecture, but the Andean culture is still very much a part of daily life. Christmas is celebrated with extravagant parades and a midnight dinner, while on New Year’s Ecuadoreans light fireworks and burn paper mache dolls of locals, politicians, or figures from pop culture to symbolize leaving the old year behind.

By Savannah I. Whaley

Incan representations of the sun are situated alongside traditional Catholic iconography on the ceiling of Quito’s San Sebastian Church. This blending of symbols, called syncretism, can be observed in churches all around Latin America.

A man stands in the plaza outside Quito’s Basílica del Voto Nacional, the largest Neo-Gothic church in North and South America.

A detailed nativity scene, complete with a dinosaur, is displayed in one of Cuenca’s markets.

Lights over Rio Tomebamba in Cuenca signal the holiday season.

A uniformed man plays trombone in a pre-Christmas parade passing through Parque Calderon in Cuenca.

Dancers perform in the Parade of the Traveling Child, held in Cuenca every year on December 24. Parades like this are held throughout Ecuador and some other parts of Latin America, but Cuenca claims to be the largest, with 50,000 participants and 200,000 spectators.

A small girl rides a lavishly decorated horse in Cuenca’s Pase del Niño parade. Adults as well as children go all out for the parade, dressing as angels, Santa Claus, or figures from the Bible. Participants wear clothing from different regions of Ecuador and the world.

A float in Cuenca’s Pase del Niño parade features a doll atop a roast pig. The name of the parade refers to a statue of the baby Jesus that was blessed by the Pope in 1961 and then returned to Ecuador.

The three blue domes of the New Cathedral dominate Cuenca’s skyline. The city is well-known for its colonial architecture, and the center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Decorated cars make their way to the much smaller Christmas Day parade in Cuenca.

Fireworks explode over the winged Virgin of Quito on New Year’s Eve. The statue is based on a description of the Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations, and locals claim that Quito’s statue is the only one in the world with wings.

A man passes on the opposite side of the street during the changing of the guards at Quito’s Presidential Palace on New Year’s Day. This half-hour event occurs every Monday and attracts a large crowd of locals and tourists even on rainy days—the guards sing, play instruments, ride horses and are sometimes greeted by the President himself.

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