From region to region, the nuances are different, but many of these celebrations are the best showcase of the fusion of Spanish and indigenous cultures, which is expressed in all aspects – from clothing and religious beliefs to music and food.
In these celebrations, nothing is spared. Traditional costumes, bands, fireworks and drinks are part of these celebrations. Here we present six (6) of the most important Ecuadorian fiestas.
1. Fruits and Flowers Festival (Ambato, Ecuador) Each February, this festival turns life “upside down” in Ambato, one of the most important cities in Ecuador’s central Andean highlands. One of the main events here is the Desfile de la Confraternidad (the “Fellowship Parade”). Prepared for months in advance, this celebration fills the streets of the city with choreographed marching teams and colorful floats decorated with typical fruits and flowers of the region. The festival is celebrated 40 days before Easter and is complemented by the election of the Queen of Ambato and the blessing of bread and fruit.
2. The Paseo del Chagra (Machachi, Ecuador) Taking place every July in the mountain town of Machachi is the traditional Paseo del Chagra (“Parade of the Cowhands”). As a central event in honor of the founding of the surrounding county — and as an example of the rich rural traditions of the area — visitors to Machachi are welcomed by chagras (Ecuadorian cowboys), who appear dressed in ponchos, chaps and sombreros. In these outfits, they parade their horses while demonstrating their skills as horsemen in front of crowds lining the sidewalks and balconies, and filling the city’s plazas.
3. The Yamor Fiesta (Otavalo, Ecuador) This celebration is one of the best examples of syncretism between indigenous traditions and those of the Catholic religion. While “Yamor” is the name of a traditional regional drink made from seven varieties of corn, it’s also the name of this festival, which honors both the Niña María (“The Child Mary,” the virgin patron saint of the city of Otavalo) and Allpa Mama (“Mother Earth”), who is thanked by local indigenous people for the harvest. Dance, music, parades, the election of the queen of the city, and traditional fireworks displays all liven up this big fiesta.
4. The Inti Raymi Festival Held on the June 21 summer solstice by most indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian highlands, this celebration takes place to thank the Inti the sun gods for the harvest and to show appreciation to Pachamama (the Earth) for blessing and caring for their crops. This festival is also an expression of religious syncretism in Andean communities. One element of this festival is a dance in which participants wear large headdresses full of small mirrors, feathers and sequins; while another feature is the presence of “Aya Huma.” Wearing a two-sided mask, this character is the embodiment of the protector of Mother Nature and the possessor of the spiritual energies of the mountains.
5. Semana Santa Although Easter is not a national holiday (as it’s celebrated in many countries in the world), it has tremendous importance Ecuador, since it is a predominantly Catholic country. This is another occasion in which the syncretism between Spanish and indigenous cultures can be clearly seen. In cities, crowded processions are held, headed by the figure of the crucified Christ and followed by find cucuruchos (characters whose origin, it is said, is in the Inquisition), the Romans who are torturing Jesus, and the mourning Magdalenas. The preparation of fanesca (a soup prepared with 12 types of grains and cod) is also a fusion of traditions and flavors. Some believe that this soup was brought as part of Spanish culinary traditions, but recent studies associate its birth with pre-Hispanic periods.
6. La Mama Negra Curiously, this impressive party that is celebrated in the mountain town of Latacunga, has two dates: the first in September, organized thanks to the donations made by the city’s two markets; and the second, in November, in which latacungueños (Latacunga residents) also celebrate their political independence. The central character is very particular: it is a white man, dressed and painted as if he were a black woman. Usually it is someone very important of the city and it changes every year. Being the Black Mama is an honor. Each character who parades through the streets draws attention to his attire and attitudes. And, once again, they are a colorful example of how indigenous Ecuadorians adapted their worldview to the culture that came with the Spanish settlers.