This post was originally written as an email on January 8, 2012
Yesterday Mary and I ate an early dinner, so I suggested that we go into town later to get some roasted corn on the cob (boiled, grilled, and rolled in butter and white cheese (queso blanca) served on a stick) or some helado (ice cream) after dark. I wanted to get some camera shots of downtown at night to show the activity that goes on in town on the two main roads. This activity generally includes small groups of men and women sitting in plastic chairs and visiting, children playing in the roadway, dogs sleeping in the intersections, vendors selling various food items, and young people playing and visiting peacefully (there are even soccer field markings with goal lines, etc and removable goals painted right in the middle of the main road!).
But last night, as we were walking downtown someone asked us if we were going to the festival? We did not know that a festival was planned, but were anxious to experience some more Ecuadorian culture. We had noticed some young men on the top of the hillside behind our home as evening fell and learned from people in the street that this was the night that commemorated the arrival of the three wise men in their visit to baby Jesus. The boys on the hillside were going to light a fire and begin a procession down the mountain crest to the village center reenacting the three wise men coming to Bethlehem.
As we were learning of this and right on cue the fire started and burned for a few moments on the crest of the hill. We walked on to town and got there early enough to see people setting up and generally getting ready for the festival.
The procession was to arrive at about nine o’clock, so we had almost two hours to mingle and visit with people we knew and were just meeting. There was a carnival atmosphere with rides and Foosball competitions and many more vendors than usual selling everything from handmade crafts to all types of food items. Someone I did not know convinced me that Mary and I should board a vehicle something like a caterpillar with six or seven small cars attached for a ride around town.
For seventy-five cents each Mary and I got a twisting wild ride over to San Jacinto, through back roadways, and around in tight circles at dizzying speed that lasted twenty or thirty minutes! God blesses Ecuadorians with a remarkable ability to get extremely close to colliding with one another before miraculously swerving away toward another near collision. Mary and I both were happy to arrive back in San Clemente alive!
The town was filling up quickly, so we secured a spot on the sidewalk near the main grandstand and waited the arrival of the magi. By the time they arrived there were far more people in a two block area than I knew even lived in this area. Balconies were loaded and doorways spilled out people all anxious to witness the arrival of the procession. I was particularly enchanted by the babies and toddlers who seemed to be on every adult’s hip or hoisted upon shoulders to see the parade.
A young man led the way carrying a large lighted star on a pole. He was followed closely by a band of masked boys beating on drums and blasting away on horns making a noise similar to the boy’s band in, “Music Man” who learned to play by the, “think method.” By that I mean that the boys made up for their lack of actual musical training with enthusiasm and zeal!
The three kings were men dressed in royal garb carrying a contraption made to look like they were riding a camel. It was very fun watching them walk into town as the crowd was parted by men stringing a long rope down both sides of the roadway. There was a solemn time where the master of ceremonies (MC) welcomed the kings to town and accepted their gifts. After that a young man, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, read a lengthy passage from scripture regarding the wise men and their visit to Christ. The MC advised the wise men that they could leave and any remaining solemnity or decorum quickly vanished as the kings started dancing wildly around the street followed by a dozen men gaudily dressed up as women who raced about as other men threw handfuls of candy to the clamoring crowds as fireworks were ignited and the music began!
I intend to do some research to try to learn the significance of the ceremonies, but the gist of it is that the town got together to celebrate the visit of the wise men and in the meantime had a great time! The music and dancing got started and went into the night as Mary and I quietly wound our way back home once again thrilled to have witnessed the simple joy of people living in peace and celebrating together.