The tradition here in Ecuador for New Years is to burn life-sized dolls called "años viejos." In maybe mid-November, I started to see "años viejos" on the streets of Machala for sale. For sale are usually hard ones made of paper-maché. Sometimes they just sell the heads, too. They vary in size, some being just two feet tall and others being taller than me. I hear there's a competition in Guayaquil, and I think they get pretty big. Passing through Machala on December 31, there were "años viejos" completely lining the streets.
I helped make a traditional one with my uncle and his family. My aunt sewed pants to a shirt and sewed the openings of the clothes shut. We then stuffed him with wood chips and newspaper, along with little fireworks (that just explode). We stuck a pole in the shirt for his spine and fixed his head on. "Año viejo": completed!
On New Years Eve, I went with my host-mother to a presentation where she spoke. Before she spoke were dancing "widows": men dressed up like women dancing around to get money (also some kind of tradition). That was very strange. Then we looked at "años viejos" - a lot were about the freedom of expression. We went back home and prepared for midnight.
The whole family went out onto the boardwalk (in front of our house) where we had chairs. We gathered the "años viejos" - we bought ones of Michael Jackson, Eduardo Maururi (the manager of the soccer team Barcelona), and Elmo and had the one we made - and stuffed them with more explosives. We layed them in a pile and poured lighter fluid on them. At midnight, we set them ablaze! There were flames all along the street. The explosives inside the "años viejos" kept popping even ten minutes after we lit them. A piece of debris hit me in the cheek from one while I was taking a picture.
We watched fireworks launched off the terrace of the house and ate grapes covered in sugar (for each one you eat, you make a wish, but you can only eat twelve) and bizcotelas (Ecuadorian cookies).
We went back to the house and ate dinner. I stayed up with five other relatives until sunrise, talking and dancing to music from the 70's. I think that's good luck for the new year. I heard that normally the whole family stays up all night, but this year most of the family left.
That night (the first of January) I swam in the pool underneath a beautiful moon.