When I was 21 I went to work as an English teacher in Ecuador. I’d just finished university and was up for a gap year adventure. I arrived in Ecuador at the beginning of December.
Sunshine and snow
December is one of the hottest months of the year in Ecuador with temperatures generally over 30 degrees. This was a bit of a shock to me as the palest woman on earth fresh from the freezing UK winter. It was so random to see Christmas decorations featuring snowy scenes which were so out of place in the blistering heat. For a little bit of Christmas from home I had brought a little Christmas tree ornament my mum had given me and a big bar of Dairy Milk (which a kill joy customs officer had made me unwrap at the airport).
I was really happy to be invited to spend Christmas with a friend and was adopted as an honouree member of her family. They also took in a fellow traveller, my friend Jonas from Switzerland. I was very touched to be welcomed with open arms and will always remember the warm welcome. My Spanish was still quite minimal at the time so joining in and making myself understood was hilariously hit and miss.
The main celebration happened on 24th December. It is quite common for neighbours to club together to put up a Christmas tree for the neighbourhood, the sparkler the better. On Christmas Eve, as it got dark, we all took a stroll around the area checking out the different trees and lights and eating ice cream.
We spent the evening of Christmas Eve playing cards, chatting and watching TV. The top show on TV was a really cheesy singing competition similar to the Eurovision Song Contest for Latin American countries (La OTI). Someone played a guitar for us to sing along to. We then ate a big Christmas meal at midnight. The food was surprisingly similar to the UK with turkey dinner.
My last impression of the celebration was that it was quite simple with a big focus on family and community.
The celebrations on the 25th were completely different to Christmas Day here. I spent the day with another friend and his family. We blocked off the street with cars at either end and all the family and friends held a tennis tournament. The rules were very lax and there was a fair amount of drinking mixed in. It was incredibly hot and I got quite sunburnt. It was quite surreal. According to my Ecuadorian husband it is quite common for families and neighbours to get together on 25th December and do some kind of joint activity, maybe a football match or a street party.
Life is generally lived so much more outdoors in Ecuador, probably because the weather is so much better and this Christmas Day really reflected this.
Trying to phone home
In the pre Skype days my Swiss friend and I spent a long time searching for a working pay phone that we could use to call our families. I was desperate to get in touch with my loved ones and tried over and over again to get a connection. After lots of unsuccessful attempts I was a bit teary by the time I eventually got through.
I love Christmas in the UK and all of our family traditions. Even so I’m really happy that I had the chance to celebrate Christmas Ecuadorian style.