Ecuador and most of Latin America rely more on the presence of family in order to celebrate and less on the materialistic things used to celebrate.
The United States is known for its capitalist endeavors around every major holiday, but Ecuador is far more foreign to this idea.
"I was so surprised that no presents were exchanged on my host mom's birthday," said Olivia Blahut, a junior at Middlebury College currently studying at the University of San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. "For me and my family in the States, presents are a major part of birthdays. But here, the celebration was just a massive birthday party with every family member imaginable."
Food and family are far more important to the Ecuadorians than gifts. The tradition of Mexican Mariachi bands is also extremely common and popular for birthday parties.
"Imagine my surprise when five men in extravagant Mariachi outfits waltz through the door while we're eating cake," said Katie King, a senior at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also studying at USFQ. "They played for about an hour and left. Everyone was dancing and singing, and it was a great addition to the party."
But birthdays are only one aspect of Ecuadorian celebrations. Independence Days around the country provide the need for days of festivities and fiestas.
"I went to Guayaquil (Ecuador's largest city) for their Independence Day back in October, and the city was decked out for a party," said Emma Buresh, a junior from Virginia Tech. "There was a massive parade, vendors, artisans, and food everywhere."
But Independence Days in Ecuador are focused more on the militaristic point of view, rather than the commercialism point of view that 4th of July can take on in the States. The parades are almost entirely composed of various naval academies, soldiers and policemen.
"There were even little children marching in lines and holding fake rifles," said Brendan O'Boyle, a junior from UNC. "I was really surprised that they were breeding them so young and showing them off to the community."
Certain holidays that are immensely popular in the States virtually do not exist in other countries. This is the case with Halloween in Ecuador. A handful of stores try to be festive with jack-o-lantern cut-outs in the windows, but in general they day goes by unnoticed and uncelebrated.
The up-and-coming generation is slowly trying to impose the holiday, though, after seeing it celebrated in numerous American movies and television shows.
"I live in a nice and private neighborhood that has a lot of children," said Ecuadorian Catherine McBride, a mother and senior at Universidad San Francisco de Quito. "In recent years, the kids have started trying to trick-or-treat around the few houses that participate. It's a very new concept, though, especially to mothers like me who didn't do it when we were children."
The more popular holiday is Día de los Difuntos, also known as Día de los Muertos in Mexico or All Soul's day in the States. This occurs on Nov. 2 and is a time for celebrating the life of beloved ones that have passed away. Indigenous people flock to the cemeteries to adorn the gravestones with colorful flowers and bouquets, and other families remember their loved ones at home.
"I was in the Galapagos on Nov. 2, there were little tents set up outside the cemeteries that sold bunches and bunches of flowers for people to put on the tombstones, said Jamile Tellez Lierberman, junior at Elon University. "It didn't have a sad or depressing connotation at all, and it really was a beautiful sight."
They also spend hours making the traditional drink, Colada Morada, and the traditional bread, Guagua de Pan with each other. Colada Morada is a thick fruit drink served warm and made from black corn flour, strawberries and other various fruits. Guagua de Pan is bread in the shape of a child and can be filled with chocolate, jam or cheese if not preferred plain. While they are sold in every grocery store and bread shop, families also enjoy making them together.
"We literally spent eight hours making Colada Morada and Guagua de Pan," Blahut said. "It was a whole day event and involved the entire family. I could tell they really love this tradition because they got really excited when I said I wanted to join them."
The general understanding in Ecuador is that holidays are a time to rejoice and celebrate with your family. There is no need for fancy decorations or aisles and aisles of themed candy.
"I have a new appreciation for the meaning and purpose of holidays after being in Ecuador," said Katie Jacob, a junior at Ohio Wesleyan University. "When I get back home at Christmas, I think I will finally understand why we celebrate what we do. My mom always tells me that all we need is family to have a good time, and I think I finally agree."