Sunday, March 19, 2006


A little history of the Ano Viejo burning

Cayo's brother, Pedro, told us that the Ecuadorean custom of burning Ano Viejo figures on New Years Eve originated many years ago with a malaria epidemic near the coast. Apparently, in an effort to contain the epidemic, the citizens in the affected areas were asked to burn their clothing and household linens. This coincided with the end of the year and the connection was quickly made, that the burning could represent an end to the ills of the old year and a clean beginning for the new. Over time the custom continued and evolved into the figures representing the old year.

I don't know if this story is true, but sounds plausible. (though I don't know that burning the clothing would have any effect on the spread of malaria) It does seem that this is a uniquely Ecuadorean custom. I love the idea and found it both fun and festive and, at some level, contemplative and quite cathartic.

Although they seem to have a lot of rites and customs for New Year's Eve, it sounds like it is more family-centered. Is this true? Whenever I've "gone out" for New Year's Eve here in the US, I've usually been bored out of my skull. Drinking and shouting a conversation over the din seems to be what it's all about. Sitting home and watching a rented movie (which is what I usually do) doesn't seem like a fitting way to commemorate a turn around the sun either. I'd like celebrating in Ecuador, I think--lots of people, lots of silliness, lots of laughing it looks like.
I remember reading a book a few years back, "Miracle Play", where the family had borrowed Boxing Day from the English but had made up their own custom for it. Boxing Day for them was boxing up all the accumulation from the year and burning in a bonfire in their front yard. It had seemed like such a good idea that the whole town had begun to bring their boxes to the bonfire, too. It was a catharthis for the entire town. I remember that book every Dec. 26 and think I should do that, too. Something about fire... Cleans it away completely and you have no choice but to start fresh.
I think most celebrations in Ecuador are family-centered, including all the children. They seem to enjoy dancing so much and roll back the carpets at the drop of a hat. Women dance together, adults dance with the children, etc. etc. We never consider dancing as recreation, unless we are "out" somewhere.
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