In Ecuador, Christmas is mainly a religious celebration gathering together the whole family. This is the most important celebration in the whole year. All families attempt to gather round the Christmas dinner on 24 December. Turkey or pig is the main course, while dessert consists of pristiños, fried ring-shaped pastries basted with cinnamon syrup.
At midnight on 24 December, gifts brought along to children and adults by Santa Claus who left them under the Christmas tree are given. An adult is usually in charge of giving them; however, when many children attend the celebration someone dresses up as Santa Claus and comes in with a bag containing the gifts.
As Ecuador is a Catholic country, preparing the crib is one of the main occupation during the Advent. Another one is the prayer to the Holy infant Jesus which is said each evening, as of 16 December. This tradition is deep-rooted and families pray at home each evening during the eight days preceding the Noche Buena (on 24 December). On this very day which corresponds to the last day of the Advent, the prayer is said in the house where Christmas dinner will be served. A few days before, the Holy infant Jesus resting in the crib is covered with a veil, thus allowing to mimic and celebrate His birth by taking off the veil on 24 December. Since roughly twenty years, prayer groups are constituted and meet each day in the house of one of the participants to pray. During these prayers, accompanying themselves on small music instruments children will sing Christmas carols.
Another common occupation for the kids is their “letter to the infant Jesus”. It has to be written at least a month before Christmas. In their letter, children explain how well they behaved and make out a list of the gifts they wish to receive at Christmas time.
The most common tree used as Christmas tree is cypress. In the past few years most of the Ecuadorians came to the idea of using an artificial Christmas tree, even though a quite number of families still prefer true trees, as their fragance gives their house some special scent. The most popular plant during this season is the “Poinsettia” (Stella di Panamà) which has red and numerous green leaves recalling the Christmas colors. Due to its colors, this plant is also commonly offered during the holiday season in various countries, although its name varies from one country to the other. One of them is “Easter flower” (Fiore di Pasqua).
As in the other countries, Christmas in Ecuador has inevitable marketing and commercial aspects. All of us are well aware of this “dark side” of the celebration, regularly increasing all around the world today.
The next day (25 December) is a day off. Families will gather together, sometimes welcoming members of their family who could not attend the Christmas Eve dinner.