There are those who can not conceive Christmas without Santa Claus. It’s just not the same without the bearded man in the red tunic. That’s why, during the Procession of the Traveling Child parade of December 24, in Cuenca, the ‘intruder’ is usually somewhere to be found, riding a donkey clothed in lavish tunics overflowing with mints and lollypops, a bottle of rum on one haunch, a roasted pig perched on its behind. David Lynch could not have pictured it better. But this vision is in fact surprisingly faithful to a celebration that reaches back to Cuenca’s Colonial past.
At the Museo de las Conceptas we stumbled upon an old sculpture that supports the celebration’s authenticity: a young boy on horseback carries myriad toys, musical instruments and a roasted guinea pig to give away.
Today, perhaps the toys are made of plastic and sometimes horses end up being the house pet, but the essence is the same. It hasn’t changed much in all these centuries.
The Procession of the Traveling Child is the most boisterous religious festivity in Cuenca today. Who, you may ask, is the “Travelling Child”? Well, he’s a polychrome statue sculpted by anonymous artisans in 1830. Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo inherited the figurine. Feeling profound affection for it, he decided to take it to the Holy Land, where it received the blessing of Pope John XXIII. Once back in Cuenca in 1961, the figure was revered as the Travelling Child, a source of great faith and fervor which has only grown over the last five decades.
During the festivities, the statue is placed on a pedestal in front of the El Carmen Church doors. Here, the faithful line up in front of the Child. They wait their turn for hours until they can finally have a “moment alone” with Him. They pray and kiss His feet. Many emigrants organize their family visits to Cuenca around this time of year, so as not to miss the parade and to pay tribute to this undeclared patron saint of their lives overseas.
Around 30,000 people are thought to participate in the parade every year.
This multitude create a procession as thick as the avenue and as long as the Historical Center, along with the ever-present ‘allegorical floats’ (trucks that have been colorfully cloaked in blankets and decorations (some try very hard to recreate the Gates of Heaven)).
The entire day is dedicated to the children of the city, and is led by the Mayorala and Mayoral of every committee, district and canton in the area. For many years, it was baker Rosa Pulla who painstakingly chose every single one of these characters, offering, six months prior to the event, gift baskets to the chosen children and their families. Rosa Pulla lives on in the memory of this special day, like a star over the Mayoralas and Mayorales, guiding their respective groups on horseback, dressed in their colorful lliglla blouses or elegantly embroidered vests…
Photography: Jorge Vinueza