Why hundreds of men in Ecuador dress as women at the end of the year

Family and friends gather to celebrate the picaresque Ecuadorian tradition.  (El Diario Ec).
Family and friends gather to celebrate the picaresque Ecuadorian tradition. (El Diario Ec).

Since the 50s of the last century, every December 31 in Ecuador, hundreds of men dress as women representing the widows they cry to the year that dies. This unique tradition of the Andean country not only provides a humorous and picaresque spark to the end of the year celebrations, but also contains different social imaginaries about sadness, gender and identity.

Men are the protagonists of this tradition. To prepare their costumes they use the clothes of their mothers, sisters, girlfriends or cousins. they use Colorful wigs, heels, short dresses Y prepare choreographies. They choose a corner, generally the one close to the house where they will receive the new year, they take out the puppet –the representation of the year that is ending– and with a rope they prevent the passage of vehicles, which can only continue their march after seeing the show and to deliver an economic contribution to the widows.

The historian Enrique Ayala Morain a statement for a local media outlet, explained that Ecuador is the only country where the wake of the year that ends and that includes widows is celebrated who weep for the deceased.

The puppets, dolls made of cardboard, cloth and sawdust, are used to burn the old year in Ecuador.  (Diego Pallero / THE TRADE)
The puppets, dolls made of cardboard, cloth and sawdust, are used to burn the old year in Ecuador. (Diego Pallero / THE TRADE)

In Ecuador, the Old years they are incinerated at midnight on the dot of December 31, so that the flames reach January 1 of the new year. Attendees jump over the bonfire that is formed, eat grapes, run with suitcases, wear bills in their shoes, wear colored undergarments and hug their loved ones, offering words of encouragement and wishes for happiness. Meanwhile the rag doll it is shaken by the explosion of the firecrackers that were mixed with the sawdust, paper or cardboard with which they were armed. In every city you can hear the thunder, you can see the lights of the fireworks and in the sky you can see the smoke from the fires that accompany the petitions addressed to heaven by a deeply religious society.

It is precisely to those dolls that “widows” cry.

Juana Cordovastudy author The old year: a means of popular expressionthe tradition is based on the idea of ​​observing the year that ends as a married character who “with his death leaves one or several widows”. The role of the widows, in this celebration, is to ask for money “while mourning the deceased.” According to Córdova, in the Ecuadorian streets, on December 31, “other characters in disguise also appear, such as clowns, devils and witches, who are the” bereaved “and accompany the widow in her work.”

For the researcher Gloria Minango Narvaezauthor of the book The old years and the widows: negotiations of the sexual order?the first data that collects the tradition of the old year and its widows in Ecuador were collected by the Italian Enrico Festival, which indicated that in December 1897 there was a “celebration of the year that dies and the arrival of the new one”. On this festivity, Festa claimed that “Masked men carry a puppet that represents the year about to die and they make a grotesque funeral procession”. According to Minango Narváez, the tradition that is still maintained has incorporated variations related to the social, political and economic context of the country.

The end of the year tradition is carried out by men disguised as women representing the widow of the year that dies.  (The Space Bar)
The end of the year tradition is carried out by men disguised as women representing the widow of the year that dies. (The Space Bar)

Researchers, generally sociologists, who have studied the “widows” of the old year agree that tradition is a expression of transvestism which is socially accepted on the date it happens: December 31st.

For Angel Hidalgoauthor of Old years. Origin, transition and permanence of an Ecuadorian popular festivalthe widow is a character who develops “in the midst of laughter, curiosity and controversy, especially because of the fleeting transvestism which implied the fact that a man dressed as a woman and introduced exaggeratedly feminine gestures, movements and gestures into his performance”.

In this it agrees with what was written by the researcher Xavier Andrade which qualifies widows as “one of the expressions of transvestism positively sanctioned in the popular urban mestizo party…as part of a system of powers in representation that includes the political caricature and the folklore reifying industry”.

The tradition of widows, with reference to gender, is explained in the book New Year’s Eve: Merry Widows Night from Liset Coba. The author explains that widows parody the binary of the two genderss –masculine and feminine– socially imposed and even suggests that these characters can become “counter-power and contaminate the social order” when an inversion of these sexual identities is imposed.

Public and private institutions organize contests for widows and old years at the end of the year.  (Technical University of machala)
Public and private institutions organize contests for widows and old years at the end of the year. (Technical University of machala)

In this sense, Minango Narváez, who quotes the philosopher Judith Butler in his book, assures that widows are characters “built for the amusement of “normal” people in whom homophobia and homosexual panic are negotiated.”

In addition, Coba points out that in the midst of the celebration, not only the inversion of the genders is observed, but also the internalized stereotypes about women, since the widow uses her “attributes” to achieve an economic favor.

the sociologist Jorge Castroin statements for The timeindicated that the hubbub around the widows is part of the identity of the Ecuadorian, who put aside your prejudices and participates in the picaresque tradition.

Despite the academic and profound views of researchers, the tradition of widows has been established as a generational practice and heritage. Grandparents, parents and children at some point led the initiative to group the funeral procession for the year that is ending.

The old year’s widow, the character who maintains her good humor during the last day of the year, lets her role rest when the figure has been reduced to ashes and will wait another 365 days to reappear.

Keep reading:

How is the “burning of the Old Year”, the Ecuadorian tradition of every December 31
Three inevitable Christmas traditions in Ecuador

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