In this third installment of our series on Christmas around South America, we’ll talk about some of the colorful traditions of a Colombian Christmas. This gorgeous country, located in northern part of South America, is known for its emeralds, its wonderful coffee, and as the birthplace of famous author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was one of the inventors of a style of writing known as magical surrealism. Colombia has its own unique style of Christmas magic as well.
Christmas is hailed with a celebration known as Día de las Velitas, or Day of Little Candles. Colombians line the streets with thousands of little candles, lighting a pathway for Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she comes to bless their homes. This takes place on December 7th, the Catholic Day of the Immaculate Conception. The candles may be placed inside luminarias or farolitos, plastic or paper coverings, to protect them from the wind and create a magical glow, and their presentation differs in different parts of the country. For example, in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, the candles are placed in doorways and windows of homes and buildings, and the streets are filled with family fun, games, and activities that go on all night. Medellín celebrates with multitudes of candles in the streets, and the celebration goes on all the way through the end of December 8th.
A Colombian tradition, which is also practiced in Ecuador and Venezuela, is known as the Novena de Aguinaldos. This custom is practiced during the nine nights leading up to Christmas Eve. Colombian families take it in turn to host a Novena party, which includes a set of Christmas prayers, followed by the singing of Christmas songs known as villancicos, festive merriment, and Christmas food and drink.
As in Peru and Bolivia, a special meal is consumed on the night of Christmas Eve. Among the special Colombian Christmas foods are lechona, a pork roast with a filling of peas and rice; arepas, fried cornmeal cakes filled with meat or vegetables; ajiaco bogotano, a flavorful chicken, potato, and corn soup, and natillas, a creamy Christmas custard. Here is a recipe for natillas you can try at home.
Both Christmas trees and elaborate nativity scenes known as pesebres are found throughout Colombia. Rather than composing letters to Santa, children write to Baby Jesus (Niño Dios) asking for gifts. These letters are often placed in the pesebre in the hopes that the divine child will bring them presents on Christmas Eve.
The Christmas meal in Colombia is frequently consumed before the midnight mass.
It is common for children to try to stay up as late as they can. Christmas Day is spent relaxing and, in the case of some adults, recovering from the excesses of the previous night!
A post- Christmas celebration, known as el Día de Los Inocentes, takes place on December 28th. This celebration commemorates the day on which the biblical King Herod commanded the slaughter of male children under two years of age in order to prevent the prophesy of his downfall. While it has serious origins, this is known as a day of jokes and fun throughout Colombia as well as a day to celebrate childhood, perhaps as a sort of antidote to the unspeakable crime portrayed in the story that inspired it. Activities benefitting children and celebrating childhood are staged around the country. Television programs may show bloopers and mistakes people made throughout the year, for laughs.
While the ways a Colombian Christmas is celebrated overlap with Peruvian and Bolivian festivities, Colombia also has its own unique and colorful traditions. Next time, we’ll discuss how Ecuadoreans commemorate the winter holidays.