If being with us here in Ecuador would be more fun than reading about it, then on New Years Eve you needed to borrow from the Venezuelan New Years Eve tradition: take a suitcase and carry it around the house for the duration of New Years Eve– bringing you the opportunity to travel in the new year. We hope it works for you!!
Around the world on New Years Eve, strange customs abound–including for kayakers here in Ecuador.
In the good southern state of Georgia, eating black eyed peas and turnip greens is meant to bring good luck and prosperity; in Ecuador luck is ushered in with 12 grapes eaten as the clock strikes midnight (a carry over tradition from Spain).
In many countries, wearing certain clothing brings good luck, love and peace. In Brazil the color of choice for New Years Eve is white to bring good luck during the new year. In Mexico, women wear red underwear to find love in the next year; here in Ecuador, it is yellow underwear for good luck!
Probably the most anticipated NYE custom in Ecuador is the burning of the “año Viejo.” “Año Viejos” are sawdust-stuffed mask-wearing dolls. Año Viejos represent unpopular politicians, celebrities, athletes, family members….anyone for whom having an effigy burned will help rid some bad memories. As midnight approaches, the Viejo is set on fire, representing the bad of the out-going year being burned out in order to start the new year with a clean slate.
The tradition does not end with just setting a saw-dust stuffed doll on fire. Before the Viejo is burned, everyone takes a turn beating it with a belt for all the trouble it caused in the out-gong year. Then the Viejo is set on fire (stuffed with fireworks in our case!!) and everyone jumps over the burning effigy, taunting it the way a matador might taunt a bull.
If burning an effigy was not enough, Ecuadorians (mostly men) dress up as viudas-which translates as “widow.” The viudas represent the widows of the passing year. For the duration of the day leading up to new years eve, the viudas dress in skimpy clothing and gather on the street asking passing cars for money. In order to “earn” the money the viuda must do a short dance. The money collected is used to help pay for the New Year’s Eve party at the house.
Dressing in the right color underwear, eating the right food, watching cross-dressed men dancing in the street for a nickel and jumping over burning saw dust-stuffed dolls that you have just beaten with a belt; collectively these are some of the traditions of new Years Eve that we have discovered here in Ecuador. We are psyched to have immersed ourselves in the traditions (how could we not?!?!) especially after having paddled a noteworthy year-end day on the Rio Jatunyacu. Noteworthy was the day not just for the fact that it was the last day of 2008 and we were kayaking, but that we were kayaking in short sleeves, coated in sun screen, surfing waves and holes until we reached the takeout.
Our sincere wishes for a Prospero Ano Nuevo 2009 to all our friends who could not be with us!