Festivals and Celebrations
Colorful and lively festivals and celebrations are held throughout Ecuador. Most of them exhibit a mixture of Spanish and indigenous traditions characteristic of the country's diverse cultural origins and history. Fireworks, liquor, music, dancing, and costumes are usually present. Each town has its own festivities, on Foundation or Independence Day, and also several saints’ days are celebrated. Here is a list with a brief description of the most important and popular celebrations of the country.
At midnight of the 31st December (offices do it at the end of the work day, generally around noon as most companies work half-day on this date), most Ecuadorians burn the "Old Year" ("Año Viejo") represented by a dummy made of wood, paper, or cloth, and many times stuffed with firecrackers. Starting one or two weeks before, one can see dummies for sale on the streets, dressed up like politicians or other famous characters. Some people dress up and the widowers of the Old Year, men dressed as women, weep and ask for money on the streets. Families gather around midnight for dinner, and after that young people go out to parties. Another custom is to write testaments supposedly from the old year to members of a family, an office, or a group of friends, and read them out loud at the New Year gatherings.
The Devil’s Feast of Píllaro is part of the Cultural Patrimony of Ecuador. Its origins are not known because the historical documents of the town were burnt in an indigenous uprising in 1898 and so several different versions exist. One thing is known, that there are absolutely no religious elements in this celebration. The devil is believed to be a symbol of rebellion against oppressors. People of Píllaro and its surrounding communities dance around the town to the rhythms of village bands, drinking and eating, and dressed up as devils with very elaborate costumes and masks made with real animal teeth and horns. It is a very beautiful and impressive sight.
Commemorating the discovery of the Amazon River by Francisco de Orellana in 1542, this day is celebrated throughout the Amazon region with dances and chicha, a traditional alcoholic beverage.
This catholic tradition merged with indigenous festivities producing today’s "carnaval" or carnival. It is a time of dressing-up and dancing in many regions of the country, the most popular place being Guaranda in the province of Bolívar. A custom that the government has tried to end is that of throwing water and flour at people, including passers-by, which is known as "playing carnival". Carnaval is a two-day holiday that many Ecuadorians spend at the beach.
Created to raise money after a disastrous earthquake in August 1949 in the region took thousands of human lives, this festival has become one of the most beautiful in the country. It celebrates the fertile soil of the region. The time of the event matches that of the nationwide carnival, but in Ambato it is forbidden to throw water and other things at people, as is the custom in the rest of the country. The main event that takes place is the Parade of marching bands, skits, and floats decorated with flowers and fruits. There is also a ceremony of the Blessing of the Bread and Fruit which is done in the main atrium of the city’s cathedral, where there is also an exhibition of large religious representations made with flowers, fruits, and bread. The Queen of Ambato is elected and there are many musical events, traditional dances, and parties on the streets. The Festival of Independent and Avant-Garde Music, which is very popular, is also held as a part of the celebrations.
As in all Latin America, in Ecuador Easter is an important celebration. The most interesting ceremonies and traditions can be seen in Quito from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the most important being the Procession of Jesús del Gran Poder on Good Friday, which represents Jesus’ passion and starts at noon from San Francisco Church, goes through the downtown and back to the church during around four hours. Anyone can participate as cucurucho (a character dressed in a purple robe with a pointed hood –"cucurucho" means cone-shaped-), veronica, penitent, roman soldier, etc. On Easter Sunday, you can hear the Concert of the Church Bells in the historic center. Also for about two weeks during Easter time, the International Festival of Sacred Music takes place, with presentations in churches and theatres of the city. The "fanesca" is a soup made of grains accompanied with other specialties which is served only and always at Easter time.
Once again, this festivity mixes Catholic and indigenous mythology elements. It is celebrated throughout the country, but the most exotic and symbolic celebrations are in the town of Pujilí, Cotopaxi province. The main characters are the "sun dancers" whose dance expresses gratitude for good harvests to the Sun and the Moon. In the city of Cuenca, Corpus Christi celebrations last seven days.
Inti Raymi or the Festival of the Sun is an Incan celebration to honor the God Sun (Inti) and ask for good harvests. It was banned as pagan by the Spaniards in the time of the colonies. It is celebrated all throughout the Andean region, each town having its own rituals and customs, the most well-known being the festivities in Otavalo. Rituals usually include a spiritual and physical purification in water (e.g. a river, spring, or waterfall), which in Otavalo is done at the Peguche waterfall.
This festival combines catholic rituals with ancient fertility rituals. Women who want to become pregnant jump over a fire for good luck, and neighbors throw her old clothes into the fire to burn away bad luck. A symbolic burn of St Peter’s beard is done by burning old tires, paper, and eucalyptus branches. The local band plays, announced by church bells and fireworks. People pray and sing in the plazas for the success of their corn and bean crops and, at night, they gather to tell jokes. On the coast, some communities celebrate this festivity with boat processions.
"Chagra" is the name given to the cowboy of the Andean paramos, and Machachi, a town 40 km south of Quito, is known as the Capital of the Chagras. At the Stroll of the Chagra horsemen arrive from the haciendas of all over the country with their best horses, dressed with their traditional outfits, chaps, striped poncho, scarf, and hat, to display their talents in dressage and with the lasso.
The foundation of the city of Guayaquil is celebrated, along with the anniversary of the birth of Simón Bolívar (July 24th), during the month of July with parades and traditional dances, and an art exhibition in the colorful neighborhood of Las Peñas.
This festival in honor of corn, the main agricultural product of the Andes, includes parades, horse races and horsemanship shows, art exhibits, cockfights, food festivals, and bullfights. Corn-made food and drinks are abundant.
Yamor is an alcoholic drink made by the fermentation of seven different kinds of corn, and is believed to date back to the time of the Incas. The Yamor festival was created in the 50s by a group of young Otavaleños to bring about the reunion of relatives and friends within the community of Otavalo, and has since then become the main celebration of the region. It combines both precolonial and catholic religious elements, paying homage to Mother Earth, Allpa Mama, as well as to the Virgin of Otavalo, la Niña María. The festival includes parades, folk dances, cockfights, and the election of the Queen of Yamor.
El Cisne is a town near the city of Loja, Loja province, home to the Lady of El Cisne (a statue of the Virgin Mary), to whom a miracle was attributed in 1594. This fact is commemorated every year by taking the statue on a 74 km massive pilgrimage of more than 400,000 people to Loja. Several stops are made along the way and at each one the Virgin’s outfit is changed and ceremonies and celebrations are done, until it reaches the Loja Cathedral where the usual celebrations with fireworks, dance, and music take place. The Virgin stays for two weeks in Loja and then returns home to El Cisne.
Black Mama integrates elements which have been added through time from the different cultures involved in Ecuador’s history: Indigenous, African, Spanish, pagan, and religious. It takes place around the 23rd or 24th September to honor the Lady of Mercy, whom people thank for her protection from the Cotopaxi volcano’s eruption of 1742. It is also celebrated in the beginning of November, sometimes on the 11th, Independence Day of the city of Latacunga, or sometimes around the 2nd, the Day of the Dead; the November celebrations are the larger and more colorful ones. It is a unique folkloric manifestation which has been declared a part of Ecuador’s Cultural Patrimony. The center of the celebration is a parade of characters dressed with very elaborate and colorful costumes, the Mama Negra, the Angel of the Star, the Moorish King, among others, a very happy and humorous event that ends with a big party with typical food, drink, and dance.
The date of the discovery of America, October 12th 1492, which is also known as Columbus Day in North America, is celebrated on the coast, especially in the provinces of Guayas and Los Ríos, with rodeos where men and women show-off their horsemanship abilities. This date is an official holiday in the country.
The Day of the Dead in Ecuador is a national holiday where people visit the tombs of their loved ones to remember them and share a meal. The "guaguas de pan" (bread babies) and "colada morada" (a thick beverage made with berries) are the typical dishes of this season.
The Cuencan equivalent of the "Fiestas" of Quito and Guayaquil, on the weekend around the 3rd November Cuenca celebrates its own "fiestas" with agricultural fairs, music, dancing, and cultural activities and exhibitions.
The "Fiestas de Quito" (Quito festivities) start at the end of November and culminate on December 6, the date of the Spanish Foundation of the city. The whole town is a big party with music bands, concerts, art exhibitions, dancing, food, and the popular "chivas", open buses where people drink and dance to the sounds of a music band while driving around the city. Also at this time takes place an important bullfight event, "Feria Jesús del Gran Poder", with the participation of famous bullfighters from around the world; the atmosphere at the "plaza de toros" (bullring) is a very special one.
El Niño Viajero (the Travelling Baby Jesus) is a sculpture of Baby Jesus that Cuencan doña Josefa Heredia had made in 1823. The sculpture’s last owner took it on a pilgrimage to Holy Land in 1961 where it was blessed by the Pope of the time. Since then, the effigy was given the name of Travelling Baby Jesus and it is honored with a procession every year on December 24th. Themed floats, horses, music bands, children dressed-up as biblical characters, shepherds, and gypsies, indigenous costumes of different regions, all take part in this parade that goes through town playing songs to Baby Jesus.