By Jocelyn Castro, Grade 7
In Ecuador, Ecuadorians have a way of letting go of the past and welcoming the new year. Ecuadorians burn paper mache figures, puppets made out of sawdust or newspaper. The Año Viejo (Old Year) is a celebration where Ecuadorians burn dolls made out of paper mache because it is a symbol of letting go of all the bad experiences and fears that had happened in the past year to make room for the New Year.
Some Ecuadorian families make the puppets in their own homes and then sell them to other families for the New Year’s celebration. These families make a living selling New Year’s dolls. The paper mache dolls are stuffed with sawdust, newspaper, or cardboard and then dressed up in old clothing. Paper mache figures can range from $5.00 to $15.00. Other families make their paper mache dolls to save money because they can be pretty expensive. Paper mache dolls can take months to complete, depending on their size. They can cost up to $150.00!
Paper mache figures sometimes represent real people, such as important heroes or politicians. Ecuadorians burn these paper mache figures because, for them, it is a way of leaving everything in the past behind and readying oneself to make new memories in the future. The burning of the figures represents what families hope to leave behind. Ecuadorians usually buy these dolls from December 20th to January 1st. On January 1st of every year, Ecuadorians dance and sing until the clock strikes midnight. Once it is midnight, the partygoers go outside and light up their paper mache dolls. This tradition happens throughout Ecuador and is one of the biggest traditions celebrated in the New Year. According to Julio Heriberto Castro, “ Once the clock strikes midnight, we burn the paper mache dolls, and the entire country of Ecuador is filled with light. It looks luminous with all the light being shone and reflected from the fires.”
Ecuadorians not only use paper mache dolls to celebrate the New Year, but they also wear masks. Ecuadorians buy masks of people, animals, cartoons, or superheroes. They buy them to wear on New Year’s Day for fun. Ecuadorians see rows of masks and vast amounts of paper mache figures while shopping at the market for New Year’s. According to Victoria Cajamarca, “We see millions of masks and paper mache figures when we go to the market on New Year’s Day. There are so many different kinds of figures. There are cartoon characters, representations of people, and even animals! It is so fun to see because there is so much creativity added to making these paper mache dolls.” If you ever go to Ecuador at the beginning of a new year, be sure that you are well prepared for all the partying and fun!