Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year - 2013!

Written by Karen.
Last night, we - along with a multitude of other Cuencanos - celebrated New Year's Eve in downtown Cuenca. 

Earlier in the month, we wondered about the life-sized and headless dummies that we saw in Baños, and had seen lots of plastic masks being sold in tiny shops and market stalls.

Well, we now know what the dummies and the masks were used for: as a means of resolution, confession, reflection, sarcasm, or political incorrectness about events of the last year (Año Viejo, or Old Year) and the expressed hope for the coming new year.

Life-sized dummies are created and dressed in regular clothes, decorated, filled with firecrackers/straw/paper, and summarily burned on New Year's Eve. Some of the dummies had little notices pinned on them that described the changes an individual wanted to accomplish in the new year.

One poignant life-sized dummy was of a young boy who felt that he hadn't been very obedient to his grandmother this past year. Thus, the boy was going to burn the old "him" and become a more obedient grandson in 2013. Other dummies and ornate displays were politically-based or used for public information and education/awareness. One neighborhood had several firefighter dummies populating educational displays that highlighted the damage that forest fires could bring. This neighborhood display was slightly ironic when you consider that the block long display was scheduled to be going up in flames shortly on a very narrow street with hundreds of people watching.

As we walked through the streets, families or work groups would place their dummy or dummies directly in the street, sidewalk or on the plaza and light them with matches. Often, there would be dancing and a fair amount of drinking to further celebrate the literal fiery end of the dummy. However, there was a seriousness to the celebration as well. A symbolic recognition of the past and the hope for a better new year was the purpose of the fiery celebration.

Firecrackers would be popping like crazy as the flames got bigger and bigger. As the evening went on, we saw more and more burned out carcasses everywhere in the streets, still smoking and smoldering, but leaving the original shape of the dummy literally burned into the street or sidewalk.

The rockets, firecrackers, and fireworks that we heard on a daily basis while we have been in South America, starting in Medellin, Colombia on December 1, 2012, intensified throughout the day until a truly magical firework display culminated at midnight when 2012 gave way to 2013. This wasn't an official civic fireworks display. Instead, people from all over the City purchased fireworks and firecrackers from street vendors and put on an incredible display of amateur firepower. I've never seen - or heard! - anything like it!

Here's a 3-minute video (click here: Midnight Fireworks) taken of the Cuenca fireworks show as seen from our bedroom window. The air horn that you hear is when the clock struck twelve. I think this was one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen - it was a spontaneous orchestra of color, light and booms coming from all over the City. 

The video shows the fireworks and the glow from the burning fires from just the back of the apartment. There were also fireworks exploding and burning fires from the front of the apartment as well. A 360 show and truly memorable! The noise was close to deafening - it sounded as if we were inside a pot full of popping popcorn, but it was a wonderful finale to a very interesting, colorful and thought-provoking day - and the end of our year!

Here are some pictures of the New Year's Eve celebration. Happy New Year!

Two dummies hanging out at a cafe table.
Dressed dummies were for sale.  These were - in some cases - taller than me!  
This "guy" was in front of the electronics store across the street from our apartment.  
One of the first dummies that we saw burning.  He/She/It was in the street right in front of our apartment.  The odd thing is that cars would drive around the burning flames as if nothing was amiss.
Another electronics store on our street.  Even though this store was still open for business, they had the stereo maxed out and the workers were dancing in the aisles.  They eventually burned their dummy in the street.
Cars drove around town with mini dummies either on the side of the car, on the roof, or on the front grill.  In the evening, when the dummies were burning, there was a traffic jam of cars winding their way through the streets to watch the sights.  
One of the larger paper mache dummies
A very elaborate Bob Marley paper mache dummy slated to be burned later in the evening.

An assortment of pre-made masks.  We also saw handmade paper mache masks and more simple hand drawn masks. 
An assortment of dummies and accessories
This one got us laughing.  Once the girls inside the shop realized that we had understood their signs, they came out and laughed with us too.  She had missed 3 days of work because she was too fat!  Totally debatable in my eyes! 
The flames and the outlines of people (dummies) being burned in the streets and on the sidewalks became more dramatic as the night fell.
A large display of paper mache political dummies created by a local neighborhood.  We didn't see any of the large displays go up in smoke as they were burned right before midnight.   
One of the mobile food vendors grilling kebobs

The families and work groups burned their dummies early in the evening.  As we walked throughout the City, there were small fires burning on the streets and sidewalks.  The pedestrians and the cars walked or drove around the burning obstacles seemingly without any problems.  
As it got later in the evening, we began to see the charred remains of the dummies.  This one stuck out for me as everything had been completely burned, except the letter.


Anonymous said...

También hacemos esto en mi país. Es un tiempo de reflexión. Los recuerdos quemar en cenizas y están desbordados.

Observers of Life said...

Gracias por tu comentario. ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!


Anonymous said...

Hei. Ikkje så dumt å starte på nytt!1 Godt nytt år til begge to. stor nyttårs-klem fra Gunnlaug

Observers of Life said...

Hei Gunnlaug! Det er noe veldig symbolsk om brann og ideen om å starte på nytt. Godt Nyttår! Klem fra Karen og Adam.