As the clocked ticked its way from 2012 to 2013, we gathered around the bonfire and ceremoniously offered our human-size effigy to the flames. That's the Año Viejo (or "Old Year") tradition here in Ecuador, and one worth adopting no matter where you live.
As way of saying good riddance to life's nuisances and bad habits, in the final days of the year, you pull out your old clothes and stuff them with newspaper or twigs. You can make you own mask or find a myriad of colorful papier mache masks for sale in shops or at the local mercado for a couple of bucks.
Some effigies are made in the likenesses of people you'd like to be rid of in the coming year. Politicians, terrorists, sports opponents, and tiresome entertainment celebrities are favorite targets, but some people create their own likenesses, with symbols of bad luck that has plagued them, or bad habits or characteristics they dislike most about themselves.
If you are superstitious, you can create a generic effigy. Just write down the things you want to be rid of (such as anger, illness, financial woes) on a piece of paper and tuck it inside your effigy's shirt. Add some cigarettes or a bottle of booze if these represent the bad habits you wish to turn your back on.
As the clock strikes midnight, you set it all ablaze with gusto ...out with the old and in with the new.
As I watched our burning man this year, I couldn't help but consider this tradition as symbolic of expat life. It's an extraordinary thing to walk away from life as you know it and embrace the magic of living in a foreign world. Not everyone can do it and not everyone finds happiness in doing so, but for those who do, it's a wonderful world indeed.
Happy New Year, and may 2013 be the year you find contentment wherever you may be.
Photo by Carlos Adampol.