Christmas in North America has come to be associated with stress and overconsumption. Turn on the television or visit any shopping center and you will be bombarded with promotions designed to get you to spend, spend, and spend some more. Only after the savings have been depleted and credit cards tapped out does the madness end.
Ecuador has not completely escaped the commercialization of Christmas. Visit a shopping mall in Quito or Ibarra and you will still see the familiar displays touting holiday savings. However, the small town of Cotacachi has so far managed to escape the era of holiday excess. There is no frenzy of gift buying or in your face advertising. Instead, there is a feeling of joy and anticipation, much like the Christmases of my childhood in a small town in the Midwest. Parades of children proudly displaying religious icons march through the streets around town while church bells ring from the cathedral in the main square.
The joy of Christmas is found more in visiting with family and preparing for a holiday feast than in exchanging gifts. My wife and I once spend Christmas Eve with our Ecuadorian friend and her family. We provided the turkey and she prepared the cuy (guinea pig). We spent the evening eating, drinking, and visiting before strolling down the street to attend Midnight Mass. It was a holiday unlike any we had ever experienced and one that will be long remembered. It felt like Christmas the way it was meant to be, a time of peace and happiness, free from the stresses of every day life.
No, there will be no white Christmas in Cotacachi this year, but for those who yearn for the old-time holiday spirit, there is no better place to be.