Festivals and events

Festivals are an intrinsic part of Ecuadorean life. In pre-Hispanic times they were organized around the solar cycle and agricultural calendar. After the conquest, the church integrated the indigenous festivals with their own feast days and so today's festivals are a complex mixture of Roman Catholicism and indigenous traditions. Every community in every part of the country celebrates their own particular festival in honour of their patron saint and there are many more that are celebrated in common up and down the country, particularly in the Sierra.

The exact dates of many fiestas vary from year to year, either with the ecclesiastic calendar or for other reasons; enquire locally to confirm current dates.

Appropriate behaviour

Outsiders are usually welcome at all but the most intimate and spiritual of celebrations and, as a gringo, you might even be a guest of honour. Ecuadoreans can be very sensitive, however, and you should make every effort not to offend (for example by not taking a ceremony seriously or by refusing food, drink or an invitation to dance). At the same time, you should keep in mind that most fiestas are accompanied by heavy drinking, the resulting disinhibition is seldom pleasant. It is best to enjoy the usually solemn beginning of most celebrations as well as the liveliness which follows, but politely depart before things get totally out of control
.

February-March

Carnaval
is held during the week before Lent and ends on Ash Wed. While the Ecuadorean version can't rival that of Brazil for fame or colour, Ecuador has its own carnival speciality: throwing balloons filled with water or, less frequently, bags of flour and any other missile guaranteed to make a mess. Water pistols are sold on every street corner at this time of year and even the odd bucket gets put to use. It can take visitors aback at first, but if you can keep your composure or - better yet, join in the mayhem - it can all be good fun. For the more sensitive tourist, there is the option of heading to Ambato, south of Quito, where water-throwing is banned and flour is replaced by flowers at the city's
Fiesta de las Frutas y las Flores
.

March-April

Semana Santa
(Holy Week) is held the week before Easter and begins on
Palm
Sunday
(Domingo de Ramos). This is celebrated throughout the country, but is especially dramatic in Quito, with a spectacularly solemn procession through the streets on
Good Friday
; also in Riobamba on Tue.

A particularly important part of Holy Week is the tradition of eating
fanesca
with family and friends.
Fanesca
is a soup made with salt fish and many different grains, and a good example of the syncretism of Catholic and earlier beliefs. In this case the Catholic component is the lack of meat, which was not consumed during Lent, while the many grains came from native traditions to celebrate the beginning of the harvest at this time of year. The original native version might have been made with
cuy
.

May-June


Corpus Cristi
is a feast held on Thu after Trinity Sun, usually in mid-Jun. This is a major event in the Central Highlands, especially in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, but also in Chimborazo province and in Saraguro and Loja. In Salasaca (Tungurahua) the festival is celebrated with music, dance and elaborate costumes, while in Pujilí (Cotopaxi) groups of masked
danzantes
make their way through the streets and the valiant climb
palos encebados
, 20-m-high greased poles, in order to obtain prizes.

nti Raymi
, the solstice, 21 Jun, has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years. Ceremonies are held at archaeological sites such as Ingapirca and Cochasquí, as well as in native communities like Otavalo and Cotacachi. Inti Raymi often blends with
San Juan
, 24 Jun, the main festival of the Otavalo valley. For an entire week, the local men dress up in a variety of costumes and dance constantly, moving from house to house. At one point, they head to the chapel of San Juan and start throwing rocks at each other as different groups vie for control of the plaza; best keep your distance.

San Pedro y San Pablo on 29 June
 is another major fiesta in Imbabura province. On the night before, bonfires are lit in the streets and young women who want to have children are supposed to jump over the fires. This festival is particularly important in Cotacachi and Cayambe, and is also celebrated in southern Chimborazo, in Alausí and Achupallas.

September

Mama Negra on 23-25 September
 is a big festival in Latacunga, where a man dressed as a black woman parades through the streets on horseback. It is repeated on the weekend before
11 Nov
ember.

November

Día de los Difuntos
or
Finados
(Day of the Dead) is an important holiday held nationwide on 2 November. This tradition has been practised since time immemorial. In the Incaic calendar, Nov was the 8th month and represented
Ayamarca
, or land of the dead. The celebration is another example of religious adaptation in which the ancient beliefs of native cultures are mixed with the rites of the Catholic church.
Colada morada
, a sweet drink made from various fruits and purple corn is prepared, as are
guaguas de pan
(bread dolls). In a few places, native families may build a special altar in their homes or take their departed relatives' favourite food and drink to the cemetery. Most Ecuadoreans commemorate
Día de los Difuntos
in more prosaic fashion, by placing flowers at the graveside of their deceased relatives.

December

Navidad
(Christmas) is an intimate family celebration, starting with
Misa del Gallo
(midnight mass) followed by a festive meal.
Pases del Niño
(processions of the Christ child), take place through the country on various dates around Christmas time. Families who possess a statue of the baby Jesus carry them in procession to the local church, where they are blessed during a special Mass. The most famous
Pase del Niño
is in Cuenca on the morning of 24 Dec. Other notable celebrations take place in Saraguro, in Loja province, in Pujilí and Tanicuchí in Cotopaxi province and throughout the province of Cañar.

Año Viejo
(New Year's Eve) has a typically Ecuadorean aspect in the life-sized effigies or puppets which are constructed and displayed throughout the country on 31 Dec. These puppets, called
años viejos
, usually depict politicians or other prominent local, national or international personalities and important events of the year gone by. Children dressed in black are the old year's widows, and beg for alms (candy or coins). Just before midnight the
años viejo'
s will is read, full of satire, and at the stroke of midnight the effigies are doused with gasoline and burned, wiping out the old year and all that it had brought with it. In addition to sawdust, the
años viejos
usually contain a few firecrackers making for an exciting finale; best keep your distance.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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