If there were ever a day that will live in infamy in our memories, it’s December 24 here in Cuenca, Ecuador: the day of the Paseo del Niño parade. It is said that Cuenca is host to the largest Paseo del Niño parade in all of Latin America. I don’t know if that’s the literal truth, but for a smallish city, they do it big. If ever photos did a better job than words, it’s now. These are some of the best, but I admit it was hard to choose.
Paseo del Niño is a tradition of celebrating the Christ Child and giving thanks for all the good things of living here on earth. The tradition was brought to Ecuador over 500 years ago by the Spanish. In Cuenca, the star of the parade is a lovely polychrome statue of the Baby Jesus, waving his chubby arm in blessing. This statue, sculpted in 1823 here in Cuenca, came into the possession of one Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo of Cuenca about a century later. He traveled through the Holy Land and to Rome with the statue where it was blessed by Pope John XXIII in 1961. Since then, this traveling Jesus has been featured in the parade.
The celebration is a combination of the Catholic values and traditions and indigenous cultural traditions. There are people from all parts of Ecuador dressed in their traditional clothing and some doing traditional dances, but also carrying their own Baby Jesus with them. In fact that is one of the aspects of the parade that I found to be most, well, charming, actually. People of all ages: men, women, boys, girls, carried their own statue of the infant Jesus through the parade. These statues were done in the polychrome tradition, and some were dressed in finery made of velvet, sequins, and other sparkly things. This was not only a celebration of the child, but an unabashed celebration of parenthood.
Horses dressed in decked out saddle blankets filled the streets, carrying children dressed up as characters from the Christmas story or simply dressed in sequined finery. There were a few Santas, which is a recent phenomenon here. The blankets are covered with all kinds of food and drink, and often there will be a basket attached to the back of the saddle carrying a roasted pig and roasted guinea pigs. (Culturally, that one was a bit hard. I used to have those as pets.)
We went early. We stayed late. We drank Chicha (a traditional fermented drink that is given out freely to the crowd). We witnessed the blessed statue of the Christ Child, heavily protected by the armed National Police, and received the blessing of the priest riding with the statue. We went home tired but with out hearts and minds filled with images and experiences we will never forget.