Over Christmas break in 2009, I chose to participate in a brief volunteer project in Quito, Ecuador, working with street kids. Once my volunteer stint was over, I wasted no time exploring this magnificent city filled with elaborate colonial churches. The religious spirit that inspired the construction of these churches spills over into the most important holiday of the year for Ecuadorians, Christmas.
My Ecuadorian host family invited me to stay for Christmas Day even though my volunteer week had ended. A quick adjustment of my flight schedule provided a rewarding insight into family tradition – allowing me to witness Ecuadorians’ strong foundations of family and religion and the holiday rituals that celebrate these.
The impressive nativity display laid out by the family immediately caught my eye when I first arrived a week earlier, underscoring in my mind the power of Christmas in the Ecuadorian imagination. On Christmas afternoon a delicious feast, quite similar to an American Christmas dinner (minus the turkey), was served to three generations of family members. Religious rituals preceded an exchange of gifts.
If you ever have the chance to stay with an Ecuadorian family for Christmas, be prepared for a long, fun-filled evening. A full night of party fun followed the feast and festivities. The project director of my volunteer project gave his wife, the sister of my host family matriarch, a karaoke machine that included tunes in Spanish and English.
“I knew this would be a hit as soon as I saw it,” he proudly claimed. His feeling proved prophetic. Once it was set it up, time stood still.
I’d never sung karaoke before – never intended to, dreaded even considering it. I initially resisted, swore I wouldn’t do it here, only wanted to watch. Then I saw the passion that this family poured into their favorite romantic tunes in Spanish. They sang in unison and knew the lyrics by heart, pouring their hearts into their performances.
The mic was handed around and I succumbed, deciding to give it my best shot. My apologies, Stevie Wonder. Well okay, not great – but perhaps not terrible either. The family was appreciative of my participation, even offering their applause. Thank goodness Simon Cowell wasn’t around!
I enjoyed it so much I sang six songs altogether, eagerly awaiting my turn each time the mic was passed around. Even though most of the family did not know English, they knew the lyrics of “New York, New York” and eagerly joined in.
By about 4 a.m. we finally decided to turn in. Quito had become for me – at least for one night – the city that never sleeps.