It all began in the 1960s when a statue of the Christ child was blessed by the Pope, brought back to Cuenca from Rome, and a tradition was born. This statue, the Nino Viajero (child traveler), became the impetus for Cuenca’s largest celebration of the year, a children’s parade on Christmas Eve.
The focus of the parade are the statues of the baby Jesus. The first statue was made in 1823 when Josefa Heredia of Cuenca commissioned a local artist to create such a statue. One hundred years later, it came into the possession of the local Monsignor, Miguel Cordero Crespo. The Monsignor took the statue to Rome in 1961 where Pope John XXIII gave it his blessing. Monsignor Crespo then brought the statue back to Cuenca, displayed it with a parade, and the festival has grown every year since.
The Pase del Nino, or parade of the child, re-enacting Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, begins at about 10:00 in the morning and proceeds along El Centro streets throughout the day, ending about 7 hours later. Children dress up in sacred or secular costumes, march through the streets, and join the revelry, along with floats, horses, dancers, stilt walkers, and musicians. People line the streets all day to observe the children and to kick off the Christmas season. The parade has continually become more secular. Recently, the Three Wisemen have followed their star on motorcycles, and Mary and Joseph have done cartwheels down the street.
I attempted to take pictures of the parade, but I couldn’t get close enough. The pressing crowds prevented much movement behind blockade fences. I’ll leave the picture taking to the professionals from atop trucks. See here a 23-minute video in Spanish of the parade:
Cuenca’s festive celebration has been a latecomer to honor the Christ child. The Spanish actually introduced the observance to Latin America some 500 years earlier. However, over the years the parade has taken hold predominately in Cuenca and is considered the largest in Latin America.
As many as 50,000 may participate in the parade, while 150,000 will line the streets to watch. The parade is actually made up of smaller units, neighborhoods and nearby towns, each carrying their own statue of the baby Jesus. The parade brings visitors, expats, Cuencanos, and the Indigenous together to become one big family expressing peace and hope for the coming New Year.
Fact: Cuenca is often seen as the capital of artistic abilities and culture in Ecuador
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