New Year is ushered around the world in different ways. The clock striking 12 means the drop of ball at Times Square, champagne toasts and kisses are universal around the world at the stroke of midnight. A totally different way of welcoming the year was what we experienced in Ecuador.
Weeks ahead of New Year’s Eve, one starts seeing cloth-stuffed dummy dolls, and masks doting every store and every street corner (so we were told and yes 2 weeks before Dec 31st we could spot them everywhere). Soon, the dummy dolls dressed up to represent characters and personalities loved or hated are ready for showcase just about everywhere. In front of homes, shops, cars, street corners, police officers. Everywhere they seen. The creative go a step beyond and create scenes and stories with these dolls (it reminded me of golus and navarathi’s from India) and there are others who spend hours gluing papers together to create the biggest paper dolls.
Ecuadorian political figures seemed to be very common but one could also see numerous sponge bobs and spidermans. The collection was eclectic and had international figures like Obama, Bush Jr., Osama make their appearances too. Every home/store has at least one and it was a sight to see. Hotels had dummies set up at the doors and lobbies, resturants had them and near every dummy we did what good tourist does – take pictures 😉
On New Year’s Eve, a list of resolutions, the good tidings of the past year, the bad and sad happenings of the year are penned down and tucked into the pockets of the dummies and at the stroke of midnight these dummies are burned along with the resolutions amidst fireworks and songs signaling the arrival of the new year. Quite similar to Guy Fawkes night in UK but not just the same.
In Baños, where we welcomed 2009 there was another strange custom followed by the locals on New year’s Eve. The locals dressed up, just like on Halloween and roamed around the street, demanding for money. Costumes ranged from princesses to a mickey mouse, evil looking witches to Ecuadorian presidents. But the most common was men dressed as women (which we were told was exclusive to Baños. Children dressing up is common in all parts of Ecuador). Men wearing sexy micros and minis with stuffed up chests and bottoms, waxed legs and hands, and freshly made up faces walked around the streets of Baños in high heels demanding money.
Curiosity made us ask why the men dressed as women and the story behind it was quite interesting. In the good old days, widows struggling to make ends meet with a child or two in tow, went around on New Year’s Eve asking the good hearted and generous-on-new year locals to help them survive another year and gradually the custom evolved into what it is today. One of the English speaking local man we spoke with on New Year’s day mentioned with great pride that he was one amongst the many men dressed as women on the streets the previous night.
Collecting money was a group activity and usually one could see a bunch of kids at street corners with a rope held at two ends blocking the roadway. The unlucky car that comes through is forced to stop and some money changes hands before the car is allowed to pass. The locals took part in the event without a grudge passing a cent or two to an excited dressed up kid/adult. Foreign tourists were mostly left alone and a firm no repeated twice was usually respected with a grudge.
A few processions of these dressed up people also began as the last sunlight of 2008 started fading. One of the processions we saw was complete with fake (dressed up) cop regulating the traffic, a cardboard full-size cop car (with two men underneath walking it), dancers, and assorted cars carrying VIPs like Osama, Obama and amongst others. The dressed-up people where more than gracious to pose for camera trotting tourists like us!
A different way to welcome a New Year!