CHRISTMAS BELOW THE EQUATOR
By E. J. Brunton
Horses, mules and burros are decked out with silver and leather bridles, strings of cookies, candies, fruits, vegetables, bottles of sugar cane liquor, and packs of cigarettes. Often the patient animals are ridden by whole roasted pigs or turkeys with paper money stuffed in their mouths. More often the rider is a local roasted delicacy known in Quichua as “cuye”. We Canadians know it as that cuddly household pet, the guinea pig, Recent entries to the scene are imported canned or bottled goods which are also strung on the
animals as a sign of significant wealth.
Each year a family will elect to decorate their horse for the event. The following year an uncle or cousin will take on the challenge and must always try to double or outdo what his predecessor has done. I imagine that explains why 16 wheeler trucks are beginning to replace the noble horse in recent years. Horses would stagger under the burden of such wealth.
Indigenous children in native costume perform a dance not unlike the English maypole dance. Each dancer, holding a colorful ribbon, weaves his way through intricate steps while winding and then unwinding the ribbons as he retraces his steps. Accompanying the dancers are groups playing the “rondador” (pan flute) cow hide drums, strings of shells, “bocina” (a several yards long instrument made partially from cow horn), and tiny ukulele-like instruments formed from entire armadillo hides called “charangos”.
Village bands from outlying areas playing tubas, drums and trumpets consume quantities of contraband cane liquor as they compete with ghetto blasters clutched by the little Christ Child and Virgin Mary look-a-likes. Ironically the song was often Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” No one seems to mind the cacophony.
Thirsty watchers quaff from a smeary communal glass, some dubious home-made liquids, carried in grimy pails by the vendors. The lone glass is carefully swished out after each use in the one bucket of murky water which will have to last throughout the entire parade.
The mingled aromas of shish-ka-bob like “chusos”, fried “llapingachos”(potato cakes), deep-fried, thinly sliced “chifles” of plantain and mouth watering slices from a whole roasted pig with its eyes, ears, hooves and tail intact, mingle to tickle your palate. You can have these on a take out basis, wrapped up in an environmentally friendly leaf, or you can eat at the stand from another communal dish. May I recommend the leaf?
Making your way home you catch sight of some of the participants straggling away from the parade followed by bands of laughing children who try to steal the candies and cookies which
adorn the exhausted horses. I hear that the food is handed out to the needy after the parade.
After all Christmas is for sharing in any part of the world.