Ask a Volunteer
Q: In what ways (if at all) is the New Year celebrated in your country of service?
A: Other than the most common celebration of eating a meal with family and friends, then going outside to watch fireworks, Ecuador's coastal region around Guayaquil has a tradition of burning away the old year. Its European historical pagan counterpart, jumping over the flames of the community fire, is embodied here by the burning of muñecas, colorfully painted papier mâché statues. Originally, the old year, El Viejo, used to be represented by the form of a man, comprised of clothing stuffed with sawdust and topped by a papier mâché head. Today, though, this traditional effigy has become a work of art; an art form which is frequently a family business.
Depending on its complexity, these muñecas are built over the course of months. But leading up to the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, workshops (talleres) are busy making tens of muñecas representing various popular personalities or characters. The week after Christmas, Guayaquil's Calle 6 de Marzo, home to the vast majority of talleres is lined with colorfully painted muñecas. There are political figures like President Correa and the local mayor of the city. There are characters like The Little Mermaid, Barney, the Tasmanian Devil and Antz. This year; one of the most popular was Michael Jackson.
Each of these muñecas is designed to be burnt at midnight on December 31. The majority of streets have at least one exploding muñeca at midnight and many have more than one burning simultaneously. Just one of these being burnt sounds like a war-zone. Imagine what happens when many streets in a big city have at least one, and sometimes 4 or 5 muñecas exploding at the same time! ¡Ay, carumba! What a noise; drowning out all music or conversation.
Through it all, though, the purpose is to burn away whatever you want to get rid of from the old year. Many celebrations include writing your wish on paper and throwing it into the burning muñeca.
So don't think you're going to sleep through midnight on Dec 31st in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Dogs howl, babies cry, car alarms sounds, people laugh and yell, children run around in the street, brave or silly folks jump close to the burning statue just to test their luck at not getting burnt. Be gone all that is bad or sad from the past year! Come in all hope for the year to come!
Sabriga Turgon, Health and Nutrition Peace Corps Volunteer, Ecuador
A: My memories of my first New Years in Bulgaria include lots of delicious food, Rakia (fruit brandy), and home-made wine; Banitsa (a flaky pastry) with ‘lucks’ in them that tell you your future for the next year; champagne at midnight outside on the balcony, watching the sky light up with fireworks, listening to guns firing blanks, and waving sparklers around; and dancing Horo dances (traditional Bulgarian dances) after midnight It was a great evening spent with great friends!
Tricia Terrones, Community Organizational Development Peace Corps Volunteer, Bulgaria
A: One of the Surinamese traditions that I found most endearing comes at the end of December. I had the distinct privilege of celebrating the changing of years three times in the company of my Surinamese friends and family. It has forever changed the way I look at this holiday.
In Suriname, the Nieuw Jaar (New Year) isn’t as important as the Ouru Jari (Old Year). On the last day of the calendar year, the Surinamese celebrate the year that is passing away by remembering what they have gained during the year, mourning what they have lost, and lighting up tons of fireworks to shoot the year that is ending away, making sure that any negative energy from the past twelve months doesn’t follow into the new year.
Kathryn Edwards, Returned Business Development Peace Corps Volunteer, 2006-2009, Suriname