New Year's Eve 2022 in Ecuador - The Tradition of the "Old Year“

Diego Arias at the Galapagos Islands


Farewell to the old year in the traditional way in Ecuador

Following the tradition of December 31 dolls are made of various materials: Cardboard, paint, newsprint, flex foam, fabric, wood, sawdust, cotton, etc. The idea is to represent in some way the people who have done something good or something bad during the year. Later, these dolls are burned and said goodbye with the old year.

Dolls, widows and dance - an old tradition

This tradition began as a child when we used to make a cloth doll stuffed with newspaper, just on the last day of the year or even two days before. Then, with friends from the neighborhood, we would go through the nearby woods to cut tree branches, since the “old year” had to be exhibited in a yard or house lined with tree branches, in every street, square or corner of the city.

a stand with old years in Quito

The most commonly used were eucalyptus trees. In fact, there was rivalry among the “jorgas” or groups of friends as to who made the best año viejo, even a platform or high place was made so that people could see it and enjoy it.

characteristical old year
old year figure qith bike

Normally it depends on the theme of the old year, but they usually put handwritten posters that are illuminated with colored lights. The doll if it represents a person of the family is then burned, this will receive luck for the whole new year, according to the belief.

old year figure getting burned

To attract the attention of people and curious spectators, a speaker with high volume was installed inside the doll. In addition, the old year is complemented by people who dress up, wear wigs and masks, but the ones that attract most attention will always be the traditional “widows”, characters that turn out to be men disguised as women who cry for the old year that will soon die. They usually wear little clothing and it is customary for them to dance and show off in the streets with their friends; the idea is to enjoy, laugh and drink alcohol. They start in the afternoon, around  5 or 6 o’clock or even earlier, they usually approach the driver of the vehicles and tell jokes, for example: “finally you show up”, “where were you”, “with the other one I see you”, “why you cheat on me”, etc.. Then he receives coins and walks away. In other neighborhoods the widows, besides dancing in front of the vehicle, usually get onto the engine, open the door and take out the driver. The idea is to make a show and make laugh hundreds of people who circulate through the streets and stand on both sides of the streets of Quito, just to watch them.

New Years Eve 2022 in Sangolquí

This year we went to see the “old years” of Sangolquí that we saw on TV that would be exhibited on Avenida Abdón Calderón at about 3 pm. We walked through this sector that was closed for cars, there were already people and groups of friends walking through this sector. Informal sales were also located, you could buy masks, wigs; even people selling the traditional game of target shooting, where a table with small products, such as gum where you pay to use a shotgun, and the traditional old years are sold from $ 2 USD.

old year figures in Ecuador
shooting booth on the street at new years eve

We walked along this avenue and there were about 4 old years that at this time were finishing them.

On one side of Calderón Street, I noticed that a man was finishing his “old year” and the decoration of his stand, if you can call it that, with the red and yellow flag of the Aucas soccer team, champions this year 2022 for the first time, after 77 years of its institutionalization.

footbal theme old years

To make the “old year” is undoubtedly an activity where the whole family participates. But today little by little this tradition is being lost and people choose to buy the ones that are sold in the streets.

two big modern old year figures

Years ago in school time, let’s say the 80’s, we used to visit Amazonas avenue in the north of Quito, where for about 12 blocks, between Colón and Patria avenues, the newspaper “Hoy” organized a competition of the best old years, where schools, state institutions and private companies participated, this demonstration was expected by young and old, as it attracted thousands of people. In addition, they included a stage where they invited people to spend the old year and stay in this concert with the company of a great orchestra of local music.  People walked for hours, visited one by one the “old years”, took pictures, there were groups of friends who had their own costumes or colors, each one showing their best costume and sharing pleasant moments, until 8 or 9 o’clock when they returned home, praying that there was not much traffic because of the widows who stopped the drivers. Nowadays, by the way, it is the day to use the lowest denomination coins such as 1 cent, to qualify the elaboration or dress  of the “old year” or the widow.

Currently, in cities such as Guayaquil, local artisans have technified this process and today there are giant, modern figures that even move. They sell them in the streets and prices range from US$5 to US$500 or US$1000, depending on how elaborate they are. The main street is 6 de Marzo in the south of the city. This year the most popular figure was Messi, for being champion in the soccer final in Qatar.

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