Pase del Niño Viajero in Ecuador: A Celebration in Honour of Baby Jesus

Religious activities are serious business in Ecuador, especially when it comes to festivities this late in the year. From traditional dishes in the form of fanesca and celebrating the day of the dead towards the end of October, Ecuador always seems to have something in store for just about every visitor that’s looking to get in on a bit of culture. It’s during this time of year, specifically on Christmas Eve (24 December), that Pase Del Niño Viajero (Passing of the Travelling Child) is celebrated in honor of baby Jesus. It occurs principally in the city of Cuenca.

How did Pase del Niño Viajero Come to be?

Regarded as one of the biggest celebrations in Ecuador, Pase del Niño Viajero has humble origins. The tradition is believed to have begun back in the 1960’s, after a state of the Christ Child made its way to the Ecuador all the way from Rome. The statute itself was blessed and sanctified by the Pope himself. Others believe the tradition goes back further than that, and started nearly 500 years ago when the Spanish reigned supreme. Nowadays, the tradition is practiced strongly in Andean region, with Cuenca being the most famous city to celebrate it in.

What Happens during Pase del Niño Viajero?

Attendees and participants partake in the celebration beginning at 10 o’clock in the morning. In Cuenca, the event begins at the Corazon de Jesus (Heart of Jesus) Church, ending at Carmen de la Asuncion. Up to as many as 70,000 attendees have been recorded in previous years.

The celebrations last throughout the day, with musicians following and playing live music alongside the procession that flows down the streets of Cuenca. The walk down the streets and church roads are meant to depict the journey of Mary and Joseph to the town of Bethlehem. Floats decorated with flowers, fruits and vegetables, along with people dressed in costumes, are all big features of this celebration. Along for the ride are street performers in the form of stilt-walkers or actors impersonating characters from the bible with a modern twist – the Three Wise Men, for instance, have purportedly arrived on Harley Davidson’s while Mary and Joseph have cart-wheeled the majority of their way alongside the procession. The dressing up doesn’t end at biblical characters, however, as much of the crowd will often come dressed in popular culture icons, from Donald Trump to Michael Jackson.

At the heart of the entire procession of Pase del Niño Viajero in Cuenca is the sculpture of the infant Jesus, purportedly made in 1823 after it was commissioned by Cuenca Josefa Heredia from an unknown artist. It was then taken to the Holy Land and Rome in 1961 and was blessed by Pope John XXIII. Its return to Ecuador and ongoing use through the procession have labelled it as the “Traveling Child,” giving the parade its iconic name. Said statue of Baby Jesus serves as an everlasting symbol of hope and redemption to all those who attend the procession, bringing families and locals together to celebrate this monumental day in peace and love, looking towards the coming year with optimism and the best of wishes.

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