Margarita loves Christmas.  That’s a good thing, since she is an artist of all things Christmas.  That’s her business.  We have Christmas hanging in the house all year round, but for the holidays, she really brings out her inventory.  I wouldn’t let her decorate before our Halloween Party, but in the days after, 
she transformed our house into a showcase of all of her goods. 

Margarita designs, sews and sells all of this.  
She is so creative and talented.
Ofcourse, Christmas to them is not about house decorations.  In this heavily Catholic Country, Christmas is about the Baby Jesus.  So, like so many others during the holidays, they reaffirm their faith to God and family by participating in small services for nine nights before Christmas.  
These are called Novenas, and it’s a chance for neighbors, family and friends 
to gather together at someone’s house for small prayer meetings.  
But more than that, in this family, Christmas stirs up a spirit of kindness and generosity to the people of their community.  I first became aware of this when Jose and Margarita headed off to the store in mid-December and came back with bags and bags of chocolates, hard candies and animal cracker cookies.  Margarita laid it all out on the table and gave the “kids” (Pablo, Me, and our friends Alex and Anthony) strict instructions on how many of each kinds to pack into transparent candy gift bags.  We made more than 30 candy bags that night and in the coming days I watched them distribute the gift bags to friends and family wherever they went.  They also made a point to hand them to people in need.  For example, they put some candy bags in the car to pass out to people begging in the street or to anyone looking like they needed a little help for the holidays.  Similar candy gift bags are sold everywhere for gifts and so they’re very traditional to give and receive.  But, my family went out of their way to make their own gift bags and make sure to pass the bags out to some strangers.  
This was what I found so special.  I was happy to help.  
In a similar vein, I decided to teach my family and friends about the US tradition of baking and gifting Christmas Cookies.  Really, I was feeling homesick and was craving some flavors of my childhood.  So, I invited all the women and kids in my family to join me for a night of baking cookies.  Since they really don’t eat cookies very much in Ecuador, and they certainly never bake them, my invitation had to have a lot of explanation.  But they’ve come to trust that if I’m hosting an event, it’s going to be interesting and fun, so most everyone came.  Margarita’s mom even rode a bus three hours from Quito just to enjoy the party too.  I started the evening by feeding them all a traditional dinner of Chili and Cornbread.  Tasting the chili powder my sister brought me from the US was a highlight for them all.  That flavor does not exist down here. 
Then, I got Elva rolling out and cutting the dough for the Peppermint Spirals.
Susy and Margory helped chop all the almonds for the Almond Crescents.  
The highlight of the evening was of course the Sugar Cookie Cutouts. 
Elvita, Alex, Pablo and Margory were patient decorators.
Faby, Margarita and Johana enjoyed the eating!

I had divided the Sugar Cookie dough into two parts thinking that we’d decorate 
half with sugar sprinkles and I’d teach them how to paint the rest with frosting.  
But they thought the sugar was so fun, I never even bothered to make the frosting! 
In the days before the party, I had made Snickerdoodles, Fudge Brownies and the Peppermint Spiral dough so that they could try lots of different cookies.  All of these recipes and flavors were new to them, but the clear favorites were the Almond Crescents and Sugar Cookie Cutouts (with milk of course!)  But for me, the best part of all, was actually teaching them how to say the word 
“Snick-er-doo-dle”, with peals of laughter from everyone in the room!

Since “cutsy presentation” is so important in Ecuador, I found little plastic plant pots
for $0.40 and made them reindeer cups to carry their cookies home.  Then we made plates
of cookies to gift to other members of the family who couldn’t come to the party.
They were very well received!
To make this party a success, I had searched several stores for all the ingredients
(extracts, candied sugar, and different flours), but finding the candy canes was a real effort.
I had to travel to the mega supermarket in Quito where I found packages of very old
(a little gooey) imported candy canes – 12 for $4.50!  I’m definitely not in the US anymore!
Although Christmas Day is the National Holiday in Ecuador, Christmas Eve really holds more importance and significance for the people.  Margarita bought a turkey and as it was cooking, she and Jose decided it was too much for us all to eat.  So they got on the phone and invited more people.  Faby, Wilo, and their boys Alex and Anthony came over, as well as Carmen and Susy from their tienda, or store, down the street.
First we had a prayer meeting, or a Novena with the Baby Jesus, and then we ate
a traditional meal with turkey in Maracuyá Sauce, potatoes and a salad made up of fresh
corn, peas, carrots and mango in mayonnaise.  The turkey was probably the best
I’ve ever had and the salad was delicious, too.  Gelatin and fruit was our dessert.
During the day while we were preparing for the meal, I tried to interest Pablo in my traditions of Santa Claus, or “Papa Noel”.  He wasn’t buying it too much, until thanks to someone’s post on Facebook, I found a website that “tracked” the path of Santa Claus around the world.  Suddenly, this brought a whole new level of reality to my story and we got out my world map and started following Papa Noel around the globe.  We discussed different continents and countries and made predictions of when he might get to Ecuador.  “But wait!”, I exclaimed, “How will he know to leave some presents if we don’t have stockings hanging by the chimney?”  Pablo and I solved that problem fast, as I had him running through the house finding the biggest soccer socks for everyone in the house.  
He was so proud of himself, I took a picture and put in on Facebook!
A little while later, Margarita happened to check her Facebook Feed and was horrified to discover the display of her family’s socks on the Internet.  I argued that they were clean!  She wouldn’t have it.  She quickly covered the soccer socks up with her own homemade Christmas “boots” and posted that picture on Facebook instead.  Now, the fireplace looked much prettier and presentable for Papa Noel!
After the party was over, Pablo headed off to bed and the adults of the house did a little 
tip-toeing around.  At 6:30am in the morning, Pablo knocked excitedly at my door yelling, 
“Santa came!” and a true believer was born.  It’s true, there were new presents 
under the tree that only HE could have left behind!  So, in our pajamas, 
my Ecuadorian family carried out a very non-Ecuadorian tradition of 
opening presents together on Christmas morning.
The first present Pablo opened was a baseball bat.  
I guess Santa decided this kid needed to learn how to play ball!  
Each of us had a present or two to open, but of course Pablo received a little more.
He was very happy with his stash including an electric car, a new soccer ball, new soccer shoes, 
an Avengers game, a giant candy cane and a joke book.  He lined up his gifts all on his own 
for this picture.  (I used to do the same thing when I was 8!)
Since we’re all trying to encourage Pablo to practice his reading, the joke book 
was a favorite addition to our long afternoon trip to Quito where we spent 
the rest of the day with most of Margarita’s brothers.  
Margarita is the oldest and the only girl followed by Ivan, Erik, Luis 
and Brandon (not in correct birth order).
We also took a lovely walk in the park with Margarita’s mom, Elva, the next morning. 
In the week between Christmas and New Years, I had planned to take a short vacation 
to the beach, but all of that quickly changed when plans were announced for the neighborhood Christmas/ New Years Celebration all day on December 28th.  
Well, I couldn’t miss that!
The morning started off with a Pase del Niño which means a reenactment of Angels,
Mary, Joseph and the Wisemen all parading through the streets to show off the Baby Jesus.
Really, this was a very short and sweet neighborhood parade through the 
cobblestone streets and dirt roads that make up the countryside around my home.  Since the Angamarcas are a prominent family in this barrio, many groups of Familia Angamarca
were in attendance including Jose’s parents, his brothers, cousins and all of their families.

My Cousin Margory played the Virgin Mary, and Susy, her sister,
 is holding her likeness in this picture. 
Holding the Baby Jesus, Joseph and the Virgin Mary in the Pase del Niño is very important, and these icons change hands every half block or so.  This man was in charge of the list of people who had signed up to take their turn carrying the icons in the parade.  As he called out family names, people would come forward and take their turn, while others insisted on knowing when it was their turn.  At one point, he started calling out “Family Jose Angamarca”.  Oh no!  Jose and Margarita had to attend to something else and didn’t end up coming to the Pase.  So, upon realizing that Jose wasn’t there, extended family members started to insist that I should take the turn since I was the representative member of Jose’s family.  No!  I refused.  
I would have tripped or dropped it.  It would have been horrible!
So Jose’s sister Veronica, in the red, stepped in to the procession with 
Mary and Joseph instead. 
The parade wound its way to the little community church
and the neighbors crowded in for a mass.
Carmen, Wilo and their girls Susy, Johana and Margory were honored in the mass 
because next year Carmen is going to be in charge of this community celebration.  
This is a big honor, and a big responsibility, too. 

This man helped punctuate the end of the mass with his loud fireworks
in the side yard of the church.
And then they paraded on down the road to have lunch together 
and begin an afternoon of games and festivities.  

I will write more about our evening festivities and our very wild night 
in my next post titled Año Viejo.
To give you a taste of the Pase del Niño and a famous Ecuadorian christmas carol 
played repeatedly throughout the season, here is a short video.  
If you can’t see the video, go to