One of the first things that struck me as odd upon my arrival to my new Ecuadorian home back in April was the papier mâché masks hanging on the back of the kitchen door. “Those are for New Year’s” I was told when I inquired. So through sheer determination and a curiosity about how the ritual burning of the dolls would go down on New Year’s Eve, I made it to the night of December 31st, 2012.
During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, masks similar to those hanging in our kitchen could be seen in all the stores on the town square. December 31st finally rolled around and people started hauling out the boxes of old papers and cardboard they’d no doubt been saving for the New Year’s festivities.
Monigotes or años viejos (there’s probably about a million different terms depending on where you are) are made and then burned at midnight to symbolize leaving the old year behind and making way for the new year to come. Most people use old clothes, sew the ends up, and stuff them with newspapers, etc. People make signs and write up clever wills for the monigotes. In the plaza across the street, the neighbors had set up a beauty pageant of monigotes, complete with judges and an audience. The masks are put on and everything is set outside the houses on display until the midnight hour. Some are more creative than others, masks of the current President of Ecuador, the Smurfs, famous soccer players, etc. This is the one part of the tradition I didn’t fully understand…details, schmetails.
About 10pm, my host mom called up to me to ask if I wanted to pasear to see all the craziness. First, we drove out to the farm to pick up my host uncle and on the way back down main street, I caught my first sight of the viudas. Basically, it was all the boys from the high school scattered throughout the streets, dressed in fishnets, heels, wigs, and short dresses. They strung ropes across the streets and made all the passing cars stop, watch them do a little dance in their get-up, and then hold their over-sized purses open at the driver’s window for any spare change. I think we drove 5 blocks and probably stopped about 10 times for the viudas. Again…details, schmetails.
We took tío back to the house and continued around town on foot since the viudas had cleaned us out of all pocket change. I knew the dolls were a big deal but I didn’t expect the atmosphere in town. The streets in the center were full of cars and people on the sidewalks. In true Ecua-fashion, reggaeton and chicha music were blaring from homemade stages. People were sitting huddled in groups, at times making it hard to distinguish between the dolls and the real-life, breathing viejos. The Pilsener was flowing, pinchos grilling, dancing was happening, neighbors were greeting each other with the standard “buenas noches” and “feliz año.” I was reminded once again why I’m lucky to live in a small town.
Back at the house, we pulled out the champagne I’d bought (had to have a bit of America in the whole thing) and some fancy glasses my host mom never uses. A few cousins came over and we hauled the boxes of old paper out to the curb. We took the masks off to save for the next year. At midnight the fireworks went off, we lit the matches, and popped the champagne. Then one by one, up and down the street, the fires started burning. I kept thinking of how cool it would be to have an aerial shot of Ecuador at midnight with millions of little bonfires down below. It was without a doubt, one of the coolest traditions I’ve ever seen…definitely a NYE to remember.
And now the masks are back to the resting places, hanging on the back of the kitchen door, waiting for next year’s monigotes.
with the beauty contestantsthe judges monigote fiesta ready for midnight…they’re so scary looking champagne streets ablaze successful jump
with my host mom
Les deseo un feliz y exitoso año nuevo a mis queridos en todo el mundo desde mi pueblito en Ecuador!
I wish my loved ones throughout the world a happy and successful new year from my little town in Ecuador!