Thanksgiving: an Ecuadorian celebration, too

25/Noviembre/2011 | 09:33


I have heard Ecuadorians comment, even lament, that there is no Thanksgiving tradition in Ecuador, similar to the celebration in the United States – a time when families come together to share a meal and give thanks.  It is a surprising comment given that Ecuadorians often do this on a more frequent basis than North Americans - weekly in many cases.

Ecuadorian families often set aside Sunday as a day for families to gather and share around the table. It is a tradition that is more mature and much less commercial than U.S. Thanksgiving. 

In the U.S. November 24 is reserved as the one day of the year where Americans make sure they get together.  And they often do it alongside a few other traditions, such as (American football) bowl games and the parades on television - modern day rituals which complement (or crowd out) the traditional festivity.

In its original manifestation, Thanksgiving was a harvest festival, dating back to the first celebration in 1621 between the native Americans and the pilgrims of  the Plymouth Colony.  They came together to celebrate a successful harvest, one in which the natives assisted the English settlers.

Most cultures in the Americas traditionally have some kind of celebration that honors or gives thanks for a harvest.   In Ecuador, the most enduring of these is a custom that  transformed into a memorial day ritual. 

The "Día de los Difuntos," or Day of the Dead, originally, was one in which the native people of Ecuador would also ask for blessings and give thanks for their harvests.

Additionally, there is an old tradition in Ecuador known as the "pamba mesa," where a community would come together, spread their food on a large cloth, and partake  together.   The pamba mesa evokes the imagery of the cornucopia, a symbol associated with Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Interestingly, the cornucopia – a horn shaped basket of fruits and vegetables and a symbol of prosperity – appears on the coat of arms of Ecuador's Andean neighbors, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, as well as Panama.

The first Thanksgiving Feast in the United States, which occurred in 1621, would have relied on products from the Americas, things like corn, beans, berries, dried fruits, plums, and pumpkins.  Meat sources could have been venison (deer) various types of fowl such as ducks, turkeys, geese, swan, and even seafood such as fish, lobster, and clams, since the site of the first meal was located near the coast in Massachusetts.

Many of these items are also found in Ecuador.  Corn is a symbol of the Americas, and Ecuador has abundant fruits and vegetables and great meat options, including seafood.  In fact, it is not difficult to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the Equator. Nor is it difficult to recreate a more modern day feast. 

Today, U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations still include some very traditional items, among them: turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberries.  Other dishes include salads, casseroles, breads and potatoes. And the traditional turkey is often  substituted for ham. 

And for dessert, Thanksgiving would not be complete without the greatest of all American pies (next to apple): pumpkin pie.

Though it is not an Ecuadorian tradition, pumpkin pie is easily made in Ecuador.   A  trip to the local market this time of year can yield fresh, locally produced pumpkins. 

The Iñaquito market in north Quito offers small pumpkins from $2.50 to $3.00, each enough to make two pies using the  recipe on this page -  more than enough to share with your family and friends.