Christmas Eve in Ecuador is basically a big family reunion. Everyone comes to the house of the head of the family with their spouses, children, and sometimes even their parents-in-law. The host has to provide food and, of course, Christmas tree.
The guests bring presents and secretly, so that children don’t see it, hide them in the closet or similar room. Until the time comes to put gifts under the Christmas tree, people enjoy food, conversation, music, and each other’s company.
When the time comes, the tradition is to leave the house with the children in search for the star of Bethlehem, the one that revealed the birth of Jesus. Meanwhile, a group of adults that has stayed indoors arranges the presents under the Christmas tree, and when the others return after some time, everybody enjoys picturesque faces of happy children screaming from joy and surprise.
Handing out gifts is a real ceremony: the oldest member of the family takes presents one by one, reads the name of the lucky recipient out loud, and officially hands the gift in. Traditionally, people immediately unwrap the gifts to thank the person right away – with such a huge family, what if you forget to thank somebody later?
As festive as Christmas celebration is in Ecuador, the food is… well, what’s wrong with the food at Christmas in Ecuador?! For a country that celebrates food throughout the year and boasts with the most amazing cuisine, Christmas table is mostly different variations of rice: rice with cheese, rice with corn, rice with stew, spicy rice, sweet rice, and even sweet and spicy rice (Arroz Navideño, or Christmas rice). There is, of course, some chicken, turkey, and salad, but rice is still the biggest part of Christmas dinner in Ecuador.
The abundance of sweets, however, is impressive! There’s a marvelous spread of candies, cakes, biscuits, and cupcakes in any way, shape, and form.
Apart from giving gifts and spending time with the family, Christmas also means decorating the house. Many families embellish their houses with Christmas mugs, dolls, and cards, hang Christmas socks on the walls, put decor on the front door, and even install Christmas light statues in the garden, like the ones of Santa or Rudolph.
In more religious families, it is common to find Nativity scene with little figures representing biblical characters. Nativity scenes are scaled up and installed in the malls, gated communities, and downtown in the city.
Singing carols is an integral part of Christmas in Ecuador. Sometimes families sing together sitting at the Nativity scene, sometimes they go to church, and sometimes they just sing in the mall. Ecuadorians are very musical people, they sing everywhere they can even and often for no explicit reason – if they are in a good mood, that already a good cause.
And with Christmas coming, happiness and joy is literally in the air, so don’t be surprised if you are walking in the street and hear some random passer-by singing Christmas carols.
Christmas time in Ecuador happens to be during the warmest season of the year. And with Christmas beautiful traditions and darling customs it gets even warmer but, of course, it’s a completely different type of warmth.