New Years Eve celebrations in Ecuador involve many festive activities unfamiliar to those from the United States or non-Latin countries. They certainly do all the partying, dancing, drinking, music and food which mark New Years celebrations in the US, but they have some other elaborate activities too. Of these, the most colorful and artistic are the making, displaying and midnight burning of paper-mache effigies or dolls, called “Año Viejo”s (“Old Year”s).
The Año Viejo dolls/effigies represent all kinds of figures associated with the past year. Especially frequent are cartoon characters from TV or movies (e.g. Bart Simpson, Ice Age animals), sports figures (often celebrated), politicians (often ridiculed), and other recognizable figures, such as policemen or soldiers.
Favorite cartoon characters from animated movies and TV shows are very big as Año Viejos.
Micky and Minnie Mouse figure large in these large figure Año Viejos.
Dogs are everywhere in Guaranda, even in the Año Viejos:
Captain America and Fred Flintstone along with perhaps a Guaranda Transit Policeman.
Doraemon, Bart Simpson and Spiderman are all popular characters this year.
I allowed myself to be photographed with the famous Muppet Miss Piggy.
Año Viejos come in all sizes. Some are small.
Everyone celebrates New Year and the Año Viejos are an essential part of the holiday.
Some Año Viejos represent things, like airplanes or helicopters, instead of people or cartoon figures. The Guaranda Fire Department made a large Año Viejo of a helicopter.
The Año Viejos are made by individuals and groups from a workplace or neighborhood, and are also sold at shops and stands in the plaza (in Guaranda, along Plaza Roja).
Sometimes historical figures are represented with carefully sculpted Año Viejos. Here a Guaranda artist is creating huge heads of (I believe) Ecuador’s General and President Eloy Alfaro Delgado (circa 1900) and the Inca Indian warrior Guaranga Kamayuk who battled the Spanish invasion (circa 1570).
Also sold are masks, often of an old man or woman, also of cartoon figures or politicians.
Kids wear masks just like at our Halloween time.
Some masks are pretty sophisticated, such as these, which borrow from Edward Munch.
Colorful wigs and sometimes even fake boobs are also popular items at these stands.
The wigs and fake boobs are part of the costume for another distinctive New Years Eve activity. Men and boys dress as women, and posing as “widows” (“viudas”), they stop traffic along side streets and demand coins from the drivers. The viudas are really dressed up – they might actually look like a woman or girl, or they might give a comic caricature of a woman. Men dressed up as women are a part of many Ecuadorian holiday festivities, including New Years and Carnival. This is done playfully and doesn’t give offense. There doesn’t happen to be reciprocal role-playing – there’s no tradition of women dressing as men in these games.
On New Years Eve these viudas dance on the streets and also play a begging game with passing cars. They hold a cord across the street and press on the car until the driver hands over a few small coins. They may then share a small drink of canela, a sweet cinnamon-flavored shot of dilute alcohol.
It’s common for kids to do the toll-gate street-blocking game beginning in the afternoon of New Years Eve. Drivers should carry a supply of small coins to get through these little road-blocks. In town the kids use a string or small cord to stop traffic. On the through roads they put rocks in the road to stop traffic. It’s all part of the game, one day a year.
The Año Viejos (effigies/dolls) are displayed in front of the house or business, or driven around town tied to a car or truck. The door-way displays may be framed with a portal arc of leafy branches, making a small stage-setting. Bright colored lights and music are added to the display. The leaves and branches will be burned at midnight along with the Año Viejos.
Around New Years Eve one often sees Año Viejos displayed on vehicles.
In Guaranda this year one of the most popular Año Viejo figures was Don Burro – Mr. Donkey.
This political themed Año Viejo refers to a widely covered news story from mid-November, when some young people in Guayaquil tried to register a donkey as a candidate for National Assembly (the Ecuadorian Congress) for the upcoming election this February. They called their candidate “Don Burro”, or Mister Donkey. Election officials refused to allow the donkey candidate, which led to calls for a write-in campaign, much to the amusement of the public at large. For a news story about this in Spanish (El Universo, Guayaquil) click here. For a news story about this in English (EcuadorTimes.net) click here. There were many Don Burro Año Viejos in Guaranda this year.
The biggest Don Burro Año Viejo was over 25 feet high!
At midnight, the Año Viejos are toppled, sometimes beaten, and burned. Below the tall Don Burro Año Viejo has just been pulled down.
Political satire was also manifest in a large Año Viejo of Pedro Delgado, who resigned his position as President of Ecuador’s Central Bank just before Christmas after it was revealed that he had used a fake university diploma to enter an MBA program in Costa Rica. Delgado’s appointment was controversial because he’s a cousin of President Rafael Correa, who himself holds a Ph.D. in economics from University of Illinois. Correa has had running battles (with lawsuits and criminal cases, raising issues of press freedom) with major figures in the banking and the news sectors in Ecuador, and the Delgado scandal has been an embarrassment to the President, who has now denounced Delgado’s dishonest behavior. A brief report on the Delgado resignation from the Wall Street Journal is here. An interesting analysis of this situation by a US professor of economics and former US bank regulator is here.
Here the largest of the Delgado Año Viejos is being painted.
Here is the team working on this and other Año Viejos. One of them is running for National Assembly.
The same Año Viejo is on display in its final form along Plaza Roja in Guaranda in the hours before midnight Dec. 31.
Aside from political parodies, a popular Año Viejo subject for this year has been the soccer team Barcelona and their hero Narciso Mina. Mina is a 30 year old striker for the Barcelona Sporting Club of Guayaquil, the most popular team in the most popular sport in this sports-happy nation. This year BSC won its first Ecuadorian championship since 1997. Key to the winning season was the record 31 goals scored by Mina.
Here are Año Viejos of Mina and President Correa.
The Barcelona SC team captain is Matías Oyola, #18. Here he’s displayed on an SUV complete with soccer ball.
This multi-Año Viejo display on Plaza Roja shows the whole team in Año Viejos.
The fireworks and parties were going on all through the town, with neighborhoods and blocks partying around their own displays and loudspeaker-amplified music. We headed home around 12:30, as the fireworks subsided and Años Viejos burned to ashes.
The next morning, New Years Day, was one of the quietest mornings I’ve seen during my time in Guaranda. Feliz Año Nuevo to one and all!
Note: photos in this post are by Theresa McGarry and Tim McDowell. Please borrow these only for non-profit use with photo credit given. Thanks and Happy 2013!