I was glancing at the calendar yesterday and realizing that we’re already in the home stretch of January. In scarcely a week it will be February and 2010 will be well underway.
Here in Ecuador, where the sun rises and sets at virtually the same time all year, and the only distinguishable concept of seasonal change is the greater or lesser chance of rain, it’s easy to lose track of the passage of time. January, April, July, October, these are all months that have, for me and most Northerners, historically meant drastically different weather, clothes, activities and sights. But now that I’m working on three years here along the Earth’s waistline, these months are quickly becoming just names. It’s January? A casual walk around town today or six months from now look and feel virtually the same for me. Every day means a chance of sunshine in the morning and a chance of rain in the afternoon. And every day is, no matter where you live, a chance to tread thoughtlessly along your routine or a chance to do something new.
There are those individuals and groups of people who believe, much as I do, that every day is sacred, and that holidays aren’t really any holier than any other day. I reflect on that even more here, where today is as much like it was on this precise day of 2008 as it is to a day in March, or June, or August. Our concept of a calendar is the only thing, after all, that lends some sense of familiarity to July 21 of this year to the day of my birth, 32 years ago. If we didn’t play Leap Year tricks with the month of February to balance the calendar with the Earth’s actual revolution around the Sun, by now my birthday would have slipped into a time more like the beginning of August, and by the end of my life, my birthday would be inching towards autumn.
Despite all of that thought, or perhaps due to it, I have come to love one particular Ecuadorian holiday more and more, each year that I observe it. Because, in an irreverently ceremonial way that for me knocks the wind out of any codgy or self-important significance, Ecuadorians take everything from the past, put it on display for a few hours, lump it all into a paint-and-paper-mache pile, and at precisely midnight on New Year’s Eve, burn it.
I don’t quite know what it all means. But here there is featured a live actor amidst the paper mache surrounds, roasting two paper mache guinea pigs. This particular display included a number of live actors who contributed to the show, mainly in the form of a paper mache marching band. The overall theme appeared to be a sort of traveling carnival, with a number of sideshows and 4H-style animal husbandry. I’ll leave you to paint your own mental pictures. I can’t give away all my photos for free, after all.
As I may have hinted at before, I like my Ecuadorian New Year’s panoramas to be on the sinister side. After all, if you choose a negative theme to put on display, and knowing that people will experience them in the dark night, let’s really take them to the dark side. Perhaps this is also connected to my experiences with another pagan fire ritual that I love. Zozobra, in Santa Fe.
The last display that I stumbled upon was, in fact, just two blocks from the home of Nancy’s parents, and it might have been my favorite. It wasn’t the most beautiful or well assembled, but it did best represent the gory sort of imagery that I’m talking about: