Cuenca's Christmas Eve Pase del Niño Combines The Sacred And The Profane

Dec. 23, 2012, Cuenca, Ecuador: Cuenca's Christmas Eve Pase del Niño parade, or Passing of the Child, is a colorful, often bizarre, mixture of the sacred and the profane.

Also This Week: Christmas In London...Christmas In Chiang Mai...A Catalan Christmas In Gloucestershire...The Simple Pleasures Of Global Diversification...

Kathleen is traveling today, making her way to the States for Christmas week. She therefore invited a special guest columnist...

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

For tourists and foreign residents, Cuenca's Christmas Eve Pase del Niño parade, or Passing of the Child, is a colorful, often bizarre, mixture of the sacred and the profane. To locals, it is a time-honored Christian festival of thanksgiving and homage that combines Catholic and indigenous traditions. Everyone agrees that it´s a lot of fun.

The eight-hour-plus procession features floats and decorated cars, many festooned with flowers, fruits and vegetables, empty beer cans and liquor bottles, roasted pigs and chickens. There are also bands, dancers and street performers, stilt-walkers and various Biblical characters. In recent years, the Three Wise Men have made an appearance on Harley Davidsons and Mary and Joseph have cart-wheeled the length of Calle Simon Bolivar. Everywhere there are children dressed in colorful homemade costumes.

Introduced to Latin America by the Spanish almost 500 years ago, the Pase del Niño is a Christmas celebration in which likenesses of the infant Jesus are carried through towns and villages. In Ecuador, the tradition remains strongest in the Andean region. Organizers of the Cuenca parade claim that theirs is the largest Pase del Niño in all of Latin America; as many as 50,000 will participate in the procession, with about 200,000 more watching from sidewalks, balconies and rooftops.

The parade is actually a collection of hundreds of smaller parades, according to José Washington Noroña, one of the event's organizers. "Every neighborhood and nearby town will have its own parade with its own entries. Each will carry its own statue of the Christ child. This is something that communities plan for the entire year. Although most entries are from Cuenca and the surrounding area, some come from as far away as Loja in the south, as well as Otavalo and Ibarra in the north," says Noroña.

Although the Christmas Eve parade may be the main event, the Pase del Niño celebration is a three-month-long activity, beginning the first Sunday after Advent and continuing until Carnival in February. The tradition also includes Novenas, nine consecutive nights of song, food, and prayer, celebrated in homes and churches. On Christmas Eve, the Misa del Gallo, or Rooster Mass, is celebrated in the Cathedral and local churches. Besides Pase del Niño celebrations, Christmas in Cuenca also features nightly firework shows, concerts and craft sales.

Organizers say that the parade has a strong connection to the United States. Ecuadorians who live in the U.S. are major financial contributors, says Noroña. "Those who have done well there send money as thanks for their safe passage and future success."”

The U.S influence is evident in many of the parade entries. Children wear cowboy outfits and such personalities as Bart Simpson and Richard Nixon, dressed up as Santa Claus, have made parade appearances. No matter the origin of the characters, Noroña says that the organizers try to keep the focus religious. "We don't dictate what participants can do, but we try to keep the focus on the birth of Christ. Last year, I saw a man dressed as Sponge Bob and thought he was a little out of place."”

The centerpiece of Cuenca's parade is an 1823 sculpture of the infant Jesus that was commissioned by Cuencano Josefa Heredia from an unknown local artist. When the sculpture came into the possession of Cuenca Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo more than a century later, he took it to the Holy Land and Rome in 1961, where it was blessed by Pope John XXIII. After the journey and the anointment, the statute became known as Niño Viajero, or Traveling Child, and has been the parade´s main attraction ever since.

The parade begins at Iglesia Corazón de Jesus on Calle Gran Colombia at about 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve and continues well into the afternoon. It winds its way down Calle Simon Bolivar, ending a few blocks east of Parque Calderon.

Along the parade route and in nearby parks and plazas, hundreds of vendors sell traditional foods, cotton candy, ice cream, and candy. There are also several distribution points for chicha, a traditional holiday beverage. It´s free, but beware: the alcohol content is high.

Although the sidewalks and balconies around Parque Calderon are considered prime parade-viewing areas, anywhere along Simon Bolivar will provide a good vantage point. The best looks are probably from the upper-floor balconies of homes and businesses along Bolivar.

David Morrill

Editor's Note: David Morrill is a former syndicated columnist and magazine editor, who currently writes for the Miami Herald and Hoy, an Ecuadorian daily newspaper. As one of Cuenca's pioneer expats, David co-founded the city's first English-language real estate company and is also president of Trans Andean Trading Company.

You can meet David at our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador event, Feb. 13.

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P.S. What else this week?

  • Vivian Lewis writes:

While many Christmas traditions in the United States come from Britain, one British one has not made it across the Atlantic. During the school holidays, matinee and evening, British theaters present Pantomime shows, called Panto.

This goes back to the Restoration after Cromwell's Commonweath was ended by the resumed monarchy, something the United States did not join in with, as we were still rooting for the Puritans. During the Puritan period, Christmas was banned as a "pagan" holiday, and all the fun ended. With the Restoration, theater was allowed again, and one of the things they invented was Pantomime for children...

  • Paul Terhorst writes:

This Christmas Vicki and I will be in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, near where Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand form the so-called Golden Triangle.

Small numbers of Christians and Moslems live in the area, but most local Thais are Buddhists. Thai Buddhists seem to love to celebrate Christmas. I doubt they understand much about the holiday, but what they lack in knowledge they make up in enthusiasm. Some shops, restaurants, and guest houses leave up their "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" signs all year long.

We're in peak tourist season here, with snowbirds from northern Europe filling the guest houses. I'm sure the hospitable Thais celebrate Christmas partly to make us all feel at home...

  • Lucy Culpepper writes:

Whacking a log with a stick to make it poop? It doesn't sound like something you'd do to celebrate Christmas, but it's a tradition that my children and I have adopted from our eight-year stay in Catalonia, Spain, and one that we transported to France for two years and now to England...

  • Lee Harrison writes:

I started my day this morning at the airport in Panama City. Having arrived early, I was enjoying a cup of coffee and working on my laptop in the American Airlines gate area, waiting for their Dallas-bound flight. I'd had to pass though Panama's U.S.-style security--including shoe removal--which is unusual in a foreign country, but that was behind me.

About two hours before flight time, 11 airline employees showed up in the departure lounge. Some fanned out to cover the perimeters, while others set up inspection tables. A portable X-ray machine was rolled into place.

A young man then got on the PA and announced that everyone had to leave the gate area and pass through this ad-hoc security before returning to their seats. So, barely 50 yards from our last security check, American was setting up their own, including a hand pat-down. All passengers had to get into another long line to re-enter the now cordoned-off gate area. Anyone who'd bought a bottle of water for the flight after the first security check had it confiscated.

After passing though this new security lane, anyone who wanted to use the rest room or buy a coffee had to repeat the process upon re-entering.

And, on this particular day, American ended up with Dallas and Miami planes switched at the gates. So the passengers all had to move to a new gate area and repeat the process. More lines and more bottled water confiscations.

All around the concourse, the passengers bound for other countries snickered as they watched us being herded around like cattle...

PLUS—From resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon:

As the "fiscal cliff" approaches in the United States and every American with an Internet connection seems to be taking the opportunity to rant and rave and comment online about what is wrong in the United States and how to fix it (in his or her often not-so-humble opinion), the rest of the world carries on. Some places have bigger economic problems than the United States does right now, including Greece and Spain, for example. But other countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Panama, are doing well, enjoying expanding economies and growing middle classes.

So it goes. Some places are in up cycles while others are declining. What's the point? The point is that we, as non-ranting global citizens, have the opportunity to move ourselves and our capital to where we believe we and it will best benefit.

Where might that be in 2013? Here's my personal New Year's agenda...

For real estate, I'm looking at Ireland, where we intend to buy a "second home" that can be rented out. Prices in Emerald Isle have fallen significantly since the Celtic Tiger bubble burst so dramatically. We want to take advantage of the opportunity this presents, which is one reason we're planning a 2013 Live and Invest in Europe event in Dublin, Ireland. This will serve as a good vantage point for an all-Europe conference, but it will also give Kathleen and me a chance to spend some time on the ground in Ireland, shopping for property (and reconnecting with old friends in this part of the world).

In this case, I'm not buying with any expectation of capital appreciation anytime soon. That'd be unrealistic for the next 5 to 10 years at least; however, rental yields in this country have regressed back to the mean and are in the 5% to 8% range (they were in the range of 1% to 2% when I lived in Ireland).

This year I also want to make a farmland purchase. For this, I'm looking to Uruguay, which I see as the obvious choice for a big private farm. This country hasn't yet restricted foreign ownership of farmland, as Brazil and Argentina have. You can buy smaller farms in Belize, Panama, and elsewhere, but in Uruguay you can find large tracts of land that can be leased to a farmer if you're not up for becoming a farmer yourself.

I don't trade currencies. I see this as too risky an investment strategy for the individual investor. I buy and sell whatever currencies I need for real estate purchases; that's as invested in currency as I get. In that context, in 2013, I'm planning to take advantage of any currency dips to move money into euro for my purchase in Ireland and into Colombian pesos, as I also intend to buy another apartment in Medellin, this one to use as a rental (no personal use agenda this time, dear wife).

Banking continues to be a complicated mess, especially for us Americans. Just this morning, one reader reported that HSBC in Panama is closing accounts of Americans in the wake of their Justice Department fine last week. I have someone looking into whether that is accurate or not. Either way, HSBC has been slapped hard by several governments and you can expect them and other banks to focus ever-more aggressively on their know your client rules. They'll also continue asking ever-more questions about every wire transfer you make. I've come to expect this as a regular part of my day.

As banks worldwide continue to try to figure out how to be compliant with the rules being handed down by the IRS in this FATCA era, you can expect all this to get much more complicated and restrictive before it finally shakes out. My advice for right now and through 2013 is to open accounts where you can when you can and to do whatever you have to do to keep any current accounts open. Banks will continue to increase their fees as their compliance costs go up, but, unless you're certain that you won't ever need an account in the future, I say it's worth paying the higher fees. You never know, at this point, which accounts are going to be unceremoniously closed or when. The more options the better.

Next year's travel agenda includes at least two new destinations for me. The Philippines is a hot spot among American retirees, particularly military retirees, thanks primarily to the low cost of living and the abundance of English spoken. A few years ago, I invested in a small real estate development project in this country. It's time finally to go check it out in person.

Peru is close to my base in Panama, but with so many other opportunities in the region, I haven't made it to the country yet. 2013 is the year, as a friend who's undertaken a small development project in Lima assures me that a trip to that city is well worth the investment of time. That's my plan.

The United States may be facing a fiscal cliff, but 2013 is going to be a year of opportunity nevertheless.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

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