I’m Dreaming of an Unwhite Christmas

Or “Our First Cuenca Christmas”

We entered into the holiday season with a tiny bit of trepidation, not knowing how homesick or culture-shocked we might be spending our first Christmas away from family, church home, Alaska, the US, etc.  We are very pleased to report that although we certainly did miss our family and friends, there was quite a bit we didn’t miss at all.

After 29 years of juggling holiday events at school, home and church, this Christmas was considerably less involved, although, as you will read, not without its activities – some of which were brand new and exciting.  In our retirement, Los Ganos de Cuenca have kept quite busy.

Often it was quite difficult to remember that it was December and Christmas was approaching because in the southern hemisphere we just observed our summer solstice.  But because Cuenca is only 200 miles south of the equator, December 21st didn’t seem all that different from November or October 21st to us.  The sun still rises around 6 am and sets around 6 pm.  And at elevation 8200 ft, it is usually cool (low 50’s F) in the morning and evening and warm (70’s F) during midday.

Typical Sunny Summer Day in Cuenca, Ecuador.

But don’t let the weather or season fool you.  Christmas is BIG here!  We saw Christmas decorations displayed as early as the beginning of November.  Of course, our own decorations took about 5 minutes to erect and were put up only five days before Christmas!

The first Christmas decorations we saw were at the big Coral department store in early November.
A little later in the season Los Ganos de Cuenca’s “Arbol de Navidad” sported a few precious ornaments.

This is our newest decoration, made from the same straw that is used to make Panama (or Ecuadorian) hats.

As the season progressed, more and more decorations appeared.  One evening, we took a “tour” of Cuenca’s Christmas Lights.  Take a look.

Lights strung across Calle Simon Bolivar went on for blocks and blocks.
Funky lights decorating “trees” in Parque Calderon. Rest assured no trees were harmed in the decorating of this park since no real trees were actually used.










No real trees are used in any decorations as far as we can see!  But they are beautiful and unique nonetheless.  Click on any of these thumbnail pictures to see a bigger image.

But the prize for the most unique and largest community decoration in the City of Cuenca goes to the nativity scene in Otorongo Plaza.  During the day, the display looks like Mary and Joseph just visited the folks at Star Trek, but at night with all the lights ablaze, it is quite impressive.


old cathedral
Catedral Vieja en Cuenca, Ecuador

Rest assured that the Ganos have been “doing” as well as looking.  We are both members of the Cuenca International Chorale and Ensemble which had its premier concert in the Old Cathedral here in Cuenca on Monday, December 22.

We attended the organizational meeting for the Chorale on the first day we arrived in Cuenca back in the beginning of October and have been involved in rehearsals ever since.  We would say that the concert “A Christmas to Remember” was a huge success as we performed to a standing room only crowd.

Cuenca International Chorale – Glenn is on the top row, third from the left. Mara is in the front row, first on the right.

If you have read other posts from this blog, you already know that parades are a big part of the life of Cuenca and all of Ecuador.  But there is none bigger or more important that the “Pase del Nino Viajero” or the Passing of the Traveling Child.   Virtually all communities and neighborhoods participate in one or more Pase del Nino parades which is a mixture of Catholic and indigenous traditions.  The carrying of the baby Jesus is only one part of the parades that occur anytime between the beginning of Advent and Mardi Gras.

One of the many niños being carried in Cuenca’s Pase del Niño. It would appear this one was a real baby!
If this retirement gig doesn't work out, Sue Gaither and Mara Gano can always try to open a Starbucks franchise.
If this retirement gig doesn’t work out, Sue Gaither and Mara Gano can always try to open a Starbucks franchise.

Cuenca’s version of this parade on Christmas Eve day is the Granddaddy of them all.   Eight or more hours in length, 40,000 participants and even more spectators make for a full day of color, sound, movement, flowers, fruits and vegetables, live animals, roasted animals, floats on truck beds, elaborate costumes and lots and lots of children.   We were able to watch some of the parade from the second floor windows and balcony of Cuenca Christian Church where we worship and serve.  We enjoyed cappuccinos and other snacks as our church family watched the parade together.  Take a look at some of what we saw.

This was a delightful group of angel dancers.
These girls’ costumes were probably saved up for and lovingly made all year long just for this parade.
A lovely angel.
One of the Magi.
And another Magi. The third one eluded me!
Imagine trying to play a flute with a scarf wrapped around your face!
It was a fairly cool morning but I didn’t don my fur chaps like this guy!
These dancers were likely from the northwest coastal area of Esmareldas.
Another niño carrier. There were many of these participants.
If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you will see that this horse is laden with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, roasted meats, candies, canned foods, drinks, and toys. There will be a big party for the family of this little boy when the parade is over.

Here are a couple of links to short video footage that we took of the parade.

In case you didn’t catch the guy in the second video who was carrying a whole chancho (roasted pig) on his shoulders, here’s a still picture of it.

The fellows in the blue head wraps were there to help the man with the roasted pig sit down on a stool to rest every so often. You’ve got to wonder: Did he lose a bet?


This was our view during the parade!
This was our view during the parade!
Any one of these four people will tell you "We were in the parade!"
Any one of these four people will tell you “We were in the parade!”







After all this excitement, Christmas day was pretty low key.  We didn’t exchange gifts with each other but made sure to remember the security guards, custodian and administrator of our building.  We also live next door to the most lovely family with three darling girls.  It was fun to buy them a few treats and doodads.

On Christmas Day, Los Ganos de Cuenca enjoyed a meal at Hotel Victoria.  Don’t we look relaxed?


Next time, some pictures and descriptions of recent road trips.

What we’ve learned:  Say “yes” when someone invites you to be in a parade.  I think this is a life lesson!

What we need to learn:  While participating in a parade, try to avoid the position in front of a band with an over zealous bass drum player!


12 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming of an Unwhite Christmas

  1. Dear Mara and Glenn …..best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and an adventurous, healthy and exciting New Year . I decided to have a Christmas Eve party and it turned out really well . There were maybe 18-20 friends and neighbors, just the right no to feel comfortable. Today I joined my neighbor family for a nice dinner. All is well here, except we’re still waiting for some decent snow. Grass showing at Christmas time in Alaska is strange. Happy Holidays, Valda

    Sent from my iPad



    1. Thanks, Valda. So great to hear from you and that you had a good Christmas. I’ve heard that Alaska has had very little snow so far. Anchorage got a dusting yesterday, I guess. Don’t worry the snow will come. It always does. Wishes for a great new year!


  2. We enjoy reading your posts! We had a great time with some of your family on Christmas Eve! It was great to meet Brian and have him worship with us! Merry Christmas! Love, Pastors Stephen & Barbara


  3. As always, love the read! By the way your Christmas gift were momentos from Latvia (chocolates, beautiful table runner, and a wooden knife). Thank you!


  4. Mara and Glen,
    Would love to join you for a Christmas in the coming years. Sounds great! Thanks for sharing your experiences and pictures. You guys are having fun! Stay in touch!


  5. Happy New Year! I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and hearing about your adventures. Your photos are wonderful. I especially loved the footage of your concert. I’m glad you are doing well and thoroughly enjoying yourselves.
    Take care,


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