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The most wonderful time of the year

December 6, 2017

In Quito, it’s a time of celebration. December 6 marked the 483rd anniversary of the city’s founding—and while that might not be a milestone year, it is a national holiday, complete with chivas (brightly colored party buses), a traditional hot drink called canelazo, and lots of music and dancing in the streets. Add in the fact that we’re only a few weeks from Christmas, and the city as I have experienced it over the past few weeks can only be described as festive.

I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere in Quito. I helped my host mother put up holiday decorations back in October. (Ecuador doesn’t really celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving, so there’s no date that’s too early to start Christmas). During Fiestas de Quito—the festivities leading up to December 6—I attended concerts and spent time with friends. I even saw the Colombian artist Juanes perform in one of Quito’s main parks last weekend; his song “A dios le pido” has been one of my favorite Spanish-language songs for as long as I can remember.

But despite all the celebration, Quito in December has felt bittersweet for me. Ecuador doesn’t have seasons, and (as a Colorado native who attends college in Maine) something feels wrong about having so many holiday decorations without any snow. The mall across the street from my university has a giant fake snowy hill for children to slide down—it doesn’t come close to the sledding hills of my youth.

On one hand, I know that I’m a bit homesick. Putting up Christmas decorations with my host mom reminds me of the ones I put up with my family. Dancing with my friends here also makes me weirdly nostalgic for parties at my college—I want to dance and talk and laugh with my friends back there.

At the same time, I also know that I will miss Quito the second that I’ll leave. I’ll miss the security guard who told me I better go dancing on December 5, because that’s the most fun night of the year in Quito. I’ll miss being able to buy tasty arepas from street vendors in the middle of the night. I’ll miss the friends I’ve made here—the Ecuadorians who’ve helped me with my Spanish, and my fellow study abroad students who have shared my experiences of being a gringa here.

As I prepare myself to return to the United States in a few weeks, I realize that I am full of contradictions. I won’t miss the occasional unreliability of the buses here, but I will miss the talented bus assistants who can count change faster than anyone I have ever seen in my life. I’m looking forward to eating normal cheese back home (Ecuadorian dairy products taste weird), but I’m going to miss the empanada place that’s just outside my neighborhood.

I want to make the most of my last few weeks in Quito. As my host mom often tells me, it’s important to “aprovechar el momento”—seize the moment. Luckily, as I look to enjoy these last remaining moments, Quito is giving me plenty of chances to celebrate.   

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