December 24

We got up and got moving for the big parade. I didn't say before, but our home exchangers actually introduced us to 3 different couples who all checked in on us... generally they'd hear us coming down the stairs and come out and chat a bit on our way out. We got some good advice about where to go for the parade. We were asked if we would like to be in the parade by Shiloh's owners, and I answered "well yes, of course our kids would like to be in the parade... but I don't know that *we* want them to be in the parade." There was a directive to hold on a minute, and reindeer antlers were suddenly proffered. I guess at that point we had our ticket into the parade.
It seems like a little back story on the parade makes sense now.
The Pase del Niño Viajero (passing of the traveling child) is an interesting story... with some variations in their telling. However, this seems mostly supported: "The centerpiece of Cuenca's parade is an 1823 sculpture of the infant Jesus that was commissioned by Cuencan Josefa Heredia from an unknown artist. When the sculpture came into the possession of Cuenca Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo more than a century later, the Monsignor took it to the Holy Land (apparently where it visited Jesus' birthplace and was baptized in the Jordan river) and Rome in 1961, where it was blessed by Pope John XXIII. After the journey and the anointment, the statue became known as Niño Viajero, or Traveling Child, and has been the parade's main attraction ever since." Elsewhere I read that this is a 500-year-old tradition introduced by the Spanish, but I can't seem to find other stories (other parades in other countries), just this specific one in Cuenca. It's also apparently bigger than just Dec 24. "the Pase del Niño celebration is a three-month-long activity, beginning the first Sunday after Advent and continuing to Carnival in early March. The tradition also includes Novenas, nine consecutive nights of song, food and prayer, celebrated in homes and churches." Furthermore, several other cities will bring their own Christ-child statue. At this point, the centerpiece statue starts its tour in the church of the Heart of Jesus and ends in the church of Carmen de la Asunción. I'm honestly not sure when in the parade this took place; we did not see it. However, music and such kicks off at 9, with the parade officially beginning at 10 a.m. and lasting ~6 hours. I didn't read about much meaning or symbolism behind the parade; it's just a big celebratory event: "Jesus has come!" I suppose, "Let's remember". Anyway, when we reshuffled our dates to Christmas season and read about the parade in Cuenca, we thought being there for Christmas would be a good plan. We weren't disappointed with this choice.
We walked that same ~1 mile to the edge of downtown, and much closer than that, we began to pass cars, floats, and lots and lots of people getting into their costumes. We were also passed by many riders on horses (we'd already seen several ride by first thing in the morning from our apartment window.)

The floats, the costumes, all of it was pretty crazy. Cars were covered with all manner of shimmer, candy, food, roasted pigs, teddy bears, Christ statues, and more.

There were more vendors of course (we snagged some fried balls of dough), some good-smelling food-
decked out horses
and more kid-cars
We were warned sternly by the neighbors that the pickpockets would be out in force, and in general, I was feeling like I didn't want to be in an overly crowded place trying to keep up with everyone and make sure nobody got to my wallet. I wasn't sure we wouldn't kind of watch from a distance for a few minutes and then head somewhere else. But it was really chill. Where we first walked up was crowded and we were standing behind several people. However, this was not the kind of parade with barricades. This was the kind of parade where people freely joined in sometimes, crossed between dancers, etc. When there was a slight break in action, we crossed the street, walked half a block, and found a seat on the curb front row to enjoy the show for a good while.
(trust me, the kids had more fun than this picture lets on, and cup explanation forthcoming)
As for the pickpockets, early on there were a few teenagers that appeared to be casing us, but they moved along, and all of our belongings came through fine.

The parade was a ton of fun.
There was just wave after wave of dancers, dressed in many many different varieties of traditional dress, with music accompaniment, people in all sorts of costumes.
It should also be noted that there were big military trucks handing out chicha-- which is sort of a corn-based beer. However, we tried some-- it was very sweet, kind of funky (like a fresh wild fermentation)-- and felt no effects despite some indications that it could be very strong (it also didn't taste very strong). Furthermore, everyone was drinking it. Really young children. I don't know where you find official information on this sort of thing, but our analysis says they must have stopped actually handing out alcohol and that now it is the non-alcoholic version. Thinking it was alcoholic, it was kind of funny to see the scene of so many parade participants (like the man dressed as a priest) downing their chicha.
There was just so much going on that I think a slew of pictures and videos is the best we can do.

Do you get the gist?

We got to the real parade a little after 10, missing the very beginning. I think we sat and watched for a good hour and a half, and we only saw a few of the first trucks/floats go by
Alli and I would have stayed for all of it, but the kidlets began issuing demands for food (despite that they were handed out candy during the parade!) So we left the parade route and walked to Cafe Nucallacta for lunch. Of course the Manimal requested some carrying on the way, and I complied. By the time we arrived he was out:
But despite efforts there was no way to keep him asleep.
Alli and I both had the wet burrito, as it was highly recommended, and we enjoyed. Soon we were on our way back home for nap.
After naptime, we went to pretty much the closest restaurant we could get to- a little middle Eastern place, where we had good pitas, hummus, and something like Shwarma. We weren't up for much else that night.
Actually Shiloh's owners had invited us for a drink. We initially planned to swing by for a short visit with the kids, but they were overactive and overtired at dinner, so we put them to bed, set up a baby monitor with our phones (first time we've used that in ~2 years!) and went downstairs for more visiting. Very interesting to visit with these different expats who all travel quite a bit, and so nice that they were eager to hear what brought us to Cuenca and share their drinks and reindeer antlers.

December 25. Christmas
We were up and did our usual for breakfast- a smattering of toast, jelly, apple slices. I may have even cooked some eggs.
Eventually we reminded the kids of their stockings. The Manimal's went over wonderfully; he loved everything. Hamish wondered why she didn’t get any of the slightly creepy fake Hello Kitty that was for sale, but eventually worked it out.
Alli and I didn't really participate as it turned out... I put the chocolate beer I bought for myself in mine, and Alli put the manger scene she got for herself in hers...

The upstairs wine-sharing neighbors invited us up for brunch, where they provided a little extra feeling that it was Christmas with some cinnamon rolls, mimosas, and more kinder eggs for the kids.
We hung out a while, but then needed to leave because we'd made other brunch reservations at a restaurant downtown. However, after leaving and getting back to our place, Alli and I both decided we really weren't hungry or much interested in going. So we just laid low and let the kids enjoy free time.
We snacked on some of the better cheese I'd purchased at the supermarket (not an easy find there) along with noni fruit paste (it tastes like blue cheese... interesting...), crackers, and such. We eventually put "Small One" on TV. Then we put Manimal down for nap, and me and little girl walked over to the the giant, local market. We made two successful river crossings sans bridge this time, and only on the way back across did we each get a good foot in the river. Hamish stated "I’m so excited to tell my class all the things I did without anyone helping me, like crossing that river”.
The market was interesting, but really large, and really local-- no touristy things whatsoever. It was also Christmas day, and I have no idea how representative it was of normal. One would think not very, yet we were told that Christmas day is treated less as a holiday; the parade on Christmas eve kind of takes all the attention. Anyway, a lot more fruit, meat, seafood, and just regular clothing stalls. Hamish was interested in it all, but only up to a point, and we left without buying anything.

We returned right as Manimal woke up, and then I cooked us dinner for the night—ravioli—and packed a picnic backpack. We took a cab to Parque Calderon, but most everything was closed (none of those hat sellers :-( 
We walked along the river to Parque de Madre to have our picnic, but it was much cooler in the wind and out of the sun. We played and ate on a bench, but didn’t stay as long as we’d expected because of the chill.
It was a nice little park though, and the kids once again enjoyed running around some.

We came home and did another movie night: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The pirate accents and seafaring lingo was challenging though, and there were lots and lots of questions as we tried to calm everyone down and get them to sleep in anticipation of the next day's adventures...