Nonfiction Written Works

The Dangers of Tradition by Juan Francisco Salazar

In Ecuador, the country where I come from, there is a New Year tradition called “Quema del Año Viejo” which means burning the old year. This tradition consists of collectively making a mannequin doll, and everyone does them at the same time; however, each one personalizes their own doll. This typical Ecuadorian tradition of burning a doll on New Year has a great meaning. The burning of the doll is considered a symbolic cleansing ceremony of the year that is about to end, to drive away bad luck or negative energy. One would assume that tradition is something pleasant and festive. But after experiencing tragedy, I realize this tradition cannot always lead to something affable. 

First, the doll is filled with something flammable such as cardboard, newspaper, straw, or cedar chips. Once the doll takes its volume with all that filling, we proceed to dress him in old clothes and finally a mask of something we did not like throughout the year is placed on him. For instance, a television program character, a president, a celebrity or even the face of an ex-girlfriend. Once the doll is finished, it is set on fire at midnight. Many Ecuadorians do not agree that this tradition should continue and should not be passed onto future generations.  

This fire party represents the renewal of time, illusions, and hopes. When the doll burns it is something incredibly significant as it also burns those bad memories along with it, wishing for a better year full of new experiences. Therefore, it is inevitable not to celebrate a tradition, even if it has consequences as it was in my case. 

It all started seven years ago; it was a chilly night on New Year’s Eve. The end of the day was approaching which means that a new year was coming soon. The festivities of the entire neighborhood were heard, and people were ready for a new year. That same night I was together with all my family including my cousins. All the adults were inside the house enjoying the evening while my cousins including me were in the backyard building the doll to burn it and fulfill the tradition. The breeze was getting stronger and stronger, and by those hot mornings, it was evident that the grass and the trees were dry. Everyone was getting their dolls ready; that year my doll was personalized with the appearance of my math teacher.  

Then, an unintelligent and immature idea crossed my mind. I decided to fill the doll with fireworks. This was one of the worst decisions of my life. From one moment to another, people began to shout the countdown to the end of that year, ready to light up that doll full of explosives. The countdown finally reached one and I proceeded to set the doll on fire. “Boom” we all heard a big explosion and then a series of explosions in a row. Fireworks were shooting everywhere. One of those fireworks managed to explode in a tree causing the tree to burn. The wind made the fire move quickly. 

My only memories from that day were a glow in the sky with lights of distinct colors, the thunderous sound of sirens, and fire, fire everywhere. After a few minutes, the firefighters arrived and luckily, the firefighters managed to put out the fire. Unfortunately, the entire backyard was burned but at least the house was saved. By living this terrible experience, I learned that some traditions do not always lead to something good.