I spent Christmas Eve and Day in Cuenca and whilst that wasn’t specifically planned, I’m glad that’s where I ended up. I’ve never spent Christmas away from home before (and I don’t think I’d like to again) but the town and the people I met there conspired to make the days much cheerier than I feared they would be.
On the evening I arrived I found a cafe bar run by a lovely Englishman who sat me down at the bar next to a Ecuadorian-American who kindly chatted to me all evening and crucially told me about the Christmas Eve procession.
The procession lasted for hours (I saw it first at 10.30am and it was still going strong at 4.30pm) and comprised floats depicting tableaux from the Christmas story, each put on by a school, association or even family. Most were on trucks but some were in the back of pick-ups and a few in the back or on top of cars.
There was of course a lot of duplication but there was a wide range of scenes depicted. I only saw one Massacre of the Innocents though.
Many people also processed along with the floats, some in costume. Most of the costumed participants, whether walking or on the floats, were children but there were some adults too. The receptionist in my hotel told me that the event got bigger every year and that it used to be just children. Most costumes were of the generic school nativity play type, including lots of angels, but there were a few animals and Santas too. There were also an impressive number of incongruous fake Wise Men beards, on both adults and children.
Every now and then a group of dancers in traditional costume would appear and there was a smattering of walkers in similar outfits. Some leading sheep.
There were also children on horses, decorated push chairs and a variety of push- or pull-along children’s carts. One form of decoration used on vehicles and horses was a kind of harvest festival conglomeration of fresh and packaged food products, including a few whole cooked pigs and chickens.
My celebrations comprised checking into a smarter than usual hotel, buying myself a box of chocolates to scoff and having a traditional Christmas Day dinner in the English bar. My discovery that the Ecuadorians do a drink that is essentially mulled wine also helped things go swimmingly.