Cuenca, Ecuador – Burning dolls: New Year’s Eve in Ecuador

The doll goes up in flames. If it doesn’t burn properly, the arsonist pokes around in its stuffed body to set the fire alight. On the next corner people think more practical: They use gas as accelerant. Immediately the mannequin is ablaze. Burning life-sized rag dolls on New Year’s Eve has a long tradition in Ecuador. They symbolize the past year’s evil that is burnt and exterminated herewith. Next year everything shall be better. It is quite intentional that the dolls sometimes bear a resemblance to living men or women from the same district. Naturally this is the person who made himself or herself most unpopular during the last year by avarice, jealousy, fraud, malice or other bad habits. The rag dolls can be bought days before New Year’s Eve at stands along the streets, they just have to be dressed and decorated.

Especially at midnight, but also before and after, half of a fortune goes up in smoke and flames – in form of fireworks, firecrackers, and bangers. The more noise the better. Soon a dense pall of smoke lies over Cuenca with its half million inhabitants. We fire some bottle rockets as well The colourful bull packs made in China were too expensive, so we bought a bunch of homemade skyrockets made from bamboo cane, newspaper, an alarmingly short fuse, and an unknown mixture of black powder. After lighting one has to run fast, but get enthusiastic about its acceleration and trajectory as well as the bright explosion and the loud bang.

Popular with locals are costume parties where adults dress up with highly imaginative and lavish costumes like kids do in carnival. We instead have a quiet evening. Ray cooks a rich Asian dinner for us, and we enjoy wine, champagne, watching the urban fireworks from our elevated position, and dogsitting of Mario’s mastiff who come through the banging amazingly well, but finally guards for an unknown reason the bathroom door in distress.

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