Christmas Traditions in Ecuador

The Pase del Niño Viajero in Cuenca, Ecuador

Jfbeltranr / CC-BY-SA-4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

If you’re in Ecuador in December, don’t miss the celebrations in the capital city of Quito or consider to the quaint mountain town of Cuenca for Pase del Niño Viajero, the Passing of the Child Traveler. This celebration is considered to be the largest and best Christmas pageant in all of Ecuador.

Pase del Niño Viajero

The origin of this religious festival is from the early 1960s when a statue of the Christ Child was taken to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. When the statue returned, someone in the watching crowd called out, “The traveler has arrived!" and the statue became known from then on as the Niño Viajero.

Today, the Christmas festivities begin early in the month of December with masses and events that recall Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. However, the day you don't want to miss is December 24, when the streets fill with crowds waiting to watch the day-long parade. The parade floats illustrate religious themes with actors, musicians, dancers, and farm animals like horses, chickens, and llamas. They all precede the principal float which carries the Niño Viajero. The Niño is then taken to the Catedral de la Inmaculada for religious services honoring the birth of Christ and route loops through the streets of Cuenca.

The parade begins in the Barrio del Corazón de Jesús and proceeds to the Centro Histórico along Calle Bolívar until it reaches San Alfonso. From here it follows Calle Borrero along the Calle Sucre until it arrives at the Parque Calderón.

The Pase del Niño Viajero is the second in a series of Cuencan Pasadas celebrating the Infant Jesus. The first takes place on the first Sunday of Advent. The third is the Pase del Niño on the first of January, and the last is the Pase del Niño Rey, on the fifth of January on the day before the Dia de los Reyes Magos, Epiphany, when children receive presents from the Magi.

Christmas in Quito

In Quito, as in the rest of Ecuador, Christmas festivities are a mix of religious, civic, and personal celebrations. During the month of December, Pesebres, or nativity scenes, are erected in various locales. They are often quite elaborate, with traditional scenes of the manger, and figures clothed in local or Ecuadorian costumes. Sometimes, the figures in the pesebre are real men, women, and children performing the ancient story. In addition, there are the Novenas, public gatherings of prayer, hymns, religious poetry accompanied by incense, hot chocolate, and cookies.

On Christmas Eve, families enjoy the Cena de Nochebuena, which traditionally includes stuffed turkey or chicken, grapes and raisins, salads, rice with cheese, local produce, and wine or chicha. At midnight, the Misa del Gallo, a long mass, attracts huge numbers and December 25 is a family day with gifts and visits.

Following the Christmas celebrations, Ecuadorians create effigies or dolls stuffed with hay and fireworks. These figures are representations of disliked people, national or local officials, famous people or folkloric characters and will be ignited on New Year's Eve, at the Fiesta de Año Viejo.