25 September 2017

What to Know About Christmas in Colombia

Posted in Blog

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions, whether they are personal traditions, family traditions, regional traditions, or national traditions.

Colombians are no different—each Colombian has their own traditions that are unique to their family as well as shared traditions celebrated regionally and/or nationally. Today, I am going to tell you about a few of the most common or recognized Christmas traditions that are celebrated in Colombia.

Christmas in Colombia
Christmas lights in Envigado, Antioquia

The first Christmas tradition I want to mention is a celebration that just occurred this past weekend—la Noche de las Velitas ("Night of the Candles"). Noche de las Velitas is a celebration that takes places every year on the evening of December 7th, leading up to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, a Catholic holiday and national holiday in Colombia. And, while a national holiday, Noche de las Velitas is celebrated differently in different regions of Colombia. For instance, on the Caribbean Coast the majority of people wake up at or stay up until 3-4am to light candles, while in Bogotá and Medellín people begin lighting candles from 7pm and onward. Also, the location and setting of the candles varies from region to region. In and around Medellín, for example, people place the candles in the streets, often creating unique designs with the candles as they burn out, and in Barranquilla people place the candles in their windows or in plastic farolitos (luminarias) as it can be too windy for candles to burn on their own out doors. Even so, all Colombians are celebrating the arrival of the Virgin, and with each candle that is lit a wish is made to the Virgin for the upcoming year and/or thanks is given for the blessings she has bestowed during the year that is ending.

Christmas in Colombia
Noche de las Velitas in Sabaneta, Antioquia

A second Colombian Christmas celebration I want to mention is that of novenas. The word novena literally means "ninth," and it is used to describe a certain type of Christmas gathering that happens over the nine nights before Christmas, finishing on the ninth night of December 24th when the birth of Jesus is celebrated. That being said, each novena that occurs from December 16th to the 24th has a special prayer that is devoted to holy figures such as baby Jesus, Mother Mary, and Joseph, among others. While the novena tradition began in South American Catholicism, it has developed into something much more than a religious celebration. In Colombia, you may host a novena for close friends, for family members, for co-workers or classmates. There is no limit to whom you can invite to your novena and no rule about who you should invite. And, while you may certainly host a novena it is more than likely that you will attend more novenas than you host. During a novena, be prepared to eat traditional Colombian Christmas foods and to sing traditional Christmas music, known as villancicos, as you celebrate the arrival of Christmas.

Christmas in Colombia
Natilla, a traditional Colombian Christmas sweet

The third and last Christmas tradition I want to tell you about is that of Christmas itself. While in many Northern European and North American countries Christmas is celebrated on December 25th (Christmas Day), in Colombia, as in many Latin Ameriacn countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th at midnight and into the wee hours of the morning on December 25th. Children receive their presents from el niño Dios (God Child), not Santa Claus or Father Christmas, at midnight and oftentimes families will sit down for their Christmas dinner around 11 pm or midnight as well.

Paige M. Poole

About the author:

"Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige's traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com