The festivals and events in Ecuador, like many places in Latin America, fuse indigenous traditions with Catholic religion, resulting in unique and colorful celebrations. Most are related to the agricultural calendar or specific historic events.
Carnival takes place 40 days before Easter each year, prior to the Catholic fasting period. In Ecuador, the festival incorporates an older indigenous tradition of celebrating the second moon by throwing flowers, water and flour. Most events begin with the Taita Carnaval (Father Carnival) being elected to preside over the festivities and head the parade of each city. Children and teenagers drench everyone around them with water pistols, water balloons and buckets of water. The parades and parties feature elaborate costumes, music, dancing, food, and drink. The city of Ambato celebrates the Flower and Fruit Festival, which includes the usual parades and music, as well as concerts, plays, a beauty pageant, and fireworks (and no water in the main area!).
Over 90 percent of the population of Ecuador is Catholic, so Santa Semanta (Easter Holy Week) is the major religious event of the year. Many of the devout fast during Lent and most towns hold massive Good Friday parades recreating Christ’s journey to the Cross and crucifixion. Quito has one of the largest parades where purple-clad penitents depict the suffering for their sins by walking barefoot for five hours down the streets while praying and bearing shrines or heavy crosses, whipping their backs or wrapping chains or nettles around their heads or ankles.
Inti Raymi is the Festival of the Sun and has been held in Ecuador and Peru since Incan times. The main event takes place in the city of Otavalo (in Imbabura) on the Summer Solstice of June 21st and 22nd, and features indigenous people dressed in native costume “taking over” the plaza to represent the rebellion against oppression. The week-long celebration features large barbecues, bonfires, traditional dances, and parades.
Día de la Raza
The Dia de La Raza (Day of the Races), also known as Columbus Day, is a public holiday acknowledging the day that Christopher Columbus brought the Spanish to the region. It isn’t necessarily a celebration, although the provinces of Guayas and Los Ríos mark the date with large rodeos featuring male and female riders showcasing their abilities to corral a horse. There is also a parade of horses and riders, a beauty pageant, dancing, and music.
Several regional corn festivals take place at harvest time in Ecuador. Tarqui’s Festival of the Corn is on August 16 and involves a Corn Queen competition, dances and music from local bands. The indigenous people in Otavalo hold the week-long Yamore Festival on September 1 to thank Mother Earth for the harvest and to pay homage to Nina Maria, the Catholic patron Virgin of Otalvo. Celebrations feature a special drink made from seven types of corn, folk parades, a Yamor Queen contest, food festival, bull and cock fights, fireworks, cart races, and competitions such as swimming across a freezing lake almost three miles across.
Day of the Dead
The Ecuadorian Day of the Dead takes place on November 2 when families in rural areas engage in a picnic feast on the graves of their ancestors, with a plate of food being set out for the dead. The meal usually includes bread babies filled with sweets or jam and an oat drink made from blueberries and spices. In the cities, families lay flowers on graves at cemeteries then enjoy the meal at home.
Christmas is celebrated with much religious and communal fervor. From early December, elaborate nativity scenes begin to appear and the days leading up to Christmas Day are marked with public Novena prayer sessions involving hymns, poems, incense, hot chocolate, and cookies. Christmas Eve is the main event, beginning with midnight mass, caroling, and a bonfire outside the church, followed by a feast. Christmas Day is usually a family affair involving social visits, gift-giving and food.
New Year is a huge celebration in Ecuador, with the traditional creation of sawdust stuffed Año Viejo (Old Year) puppets being a major feature. The puppets are masked with the face of someone representing all that is bad about the old year and are placed in a shelter decorated with messages and explanations of evil doings. Quito has some of the most elaborate displays that are often financed by large businesses. At midnight, the displays are set afire to banish the old and welcome in the new. There are lots of superstitions that can be seen at midnight and the revelry continues until dawn.