At home it “feels” like Christmas when the weather turns cold, the lights and trees are up, and we’ve pulled out our favorite decorations, advent calendars, Christmas books and music. Here in Cuenca the weather is pretty constant, so that cue is missing. And while Ecuadorans do put up Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and some lights inside their houses, they don’t drape blinking lights on every building (refreshing!), so the overall “feel” is different. Live Christmas trees aren’t really available here, and the artificial ones are expensive. And we don’t want to acquire a bunch of Christmas items that we would have to get rid of when we leave. So for inside the house we’ve come up with: a small nativity set I bought during the Fiestas of Cuenca; an advent calendar made out of toilet paper tubes, paint and tissue paper; paper ornaments made by the kids (still in process!); and a string of icicle lights made in, where else, China, that I splurged on ($7). We are planning to fashion a tree out of several large branches we found by the river, and we have a candle we’re using to mark the Sundays of Advent. What will really make it feel like Christmas is having the Gallups here to celebrate with – we can’t wait for that! Overall, I’m liking the minimalist approach, and the kids don’t seem to mind. They are signed up for a Christmas cookie baking class at a local bakery next Friday. I’m hoping Lucia will find some alternatives to the peppermint bark that she so wants to make…. And for which we cannot find peppermint candies!
Meanwhile in Cuenca the main preparations involve the Nativity Scenes, Baby Jesus, and Christmas Baskets.
Nativity Scenes: As in much of the Latin world, Ecuadorans have the tradition of putting up elaborate nativity scenes that represent not only the manger scene, but the whole family, village, etc. Many people have nativity scenes in their homes, and they personalize them to include their own family members or area. Businesses, institutions and markets also put up scenes. I’ve included some pictures of a big scene that is in the center of one of the main markets in Cuenca, right between the meat stands and the vegetable section, and another that is in an outdoor plaza. The big metallic scene seems very minimalist by comparison, but it lights up at night so I’m sure is quite impressive. Market stands sell little houses and figures that can be included in the scenes, some locally crafted and lovely and others imported and plastic. The scenes include depictions of traditional celebrations. You can even buy little ceramic roasted pigs and Cuyes, traditional dishes, to include in the scene. Here in Cuenca the scenes center around the elaborately dressed Christ Child, often seated in a chair.
While families get baskets, kids get – what else- Candy! It is traditional at holiday parties for kids to get a “fundita de golosinas” – a little bag of candy. The local grocery stores have put up big displays where you can hand pick what goes into candy bags. You can also buy jumbo sized bags of candy and/or animal crackers to make up your own smaller bags. I managed to avoid being part of the PTA-like committee that organizes the parties for each of the grades at school, but there was plenty of discussion about the bags of candy, so it will be interesting to see what the kids come home with.