“This is the biggest and best Pase del Niño ever,” is how Carmela Llivipuma described Saturday’s Christmas Eve parade through Cuenca’s historic district. The granddaughter of the event’s founder said 120,000, maybe more, watched or participated in the parade that proceeded down Calle Simon Bolivar for more than six hours.
The parade was a “coming out” party of sorts since the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have thankfully returned to good health and can once again celebrate our Niño Viajero and the birth of Jesus,” Llivipuma said.
Besides those from Azuay, Cañar and Loja Provinces, Saturday’s parade featured entries from as far away as Cusco, Peru and Popayan, Colombia. Christmas and indigenous themes mixed seamlessly in the procession as Inca and Cañari devils and gods joined Christian holy men and virgins.
Mostly, the parade featured children – as many as 20,000 of them, according to Llivipuma – in colorful costumes, most representing Christmas nativity characters. Many rode on floats while others were on horseback or foot. Babies were pushed in decorated strollers by their parents.
With the exception of the pandemic cancellations, the parade has been held every Christmas Eve since 1961 when Rosa Palomeque suggested the idea to the Cuenca Catholic Diocese. Her intention was to honor the Christ child icon, the Niño Viajero, that earlier in the year had traveled to Israel and Rome, where it was “baptized” by the Pope.
“My grandmother wanted to honor the remarkable Niño and believed that Cuenca needed a Christmas tradition,” Llivipuma said. The church agreed with the plan and the parade has grown from a small solemn procession to its current massive dimensions.
The only complaint Llivipuma and other parade organizers heard Saturday was about the relentless sunshine and afternoon heat, which reached a scorching 25.5 degrees Celsius (78 F), the second hottest day of the year. “The sun and the heat make it difficult for the children and the parents need to keep the babies covered,” Llivipuma said.
For on-lookers who couldn’t find shade, parasols were the order of the day.