Five ways to celebrate Christmas in Colombia

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Christmas is coming and there is no better place to celebrate it than Colombia. Here are five ways to ensure you pass the festive season like a local.

Día de las Velitas

Little Candles’ Day is celebrated on December 7th (the eve of the Immaculate Conception) and officially marks the start of Christmas in Colombia. Colombians light small candles and paper lanterns, placing them on windowsills and balconies and decorating parks and roads. Bogota closes several streets so its citizens can admire the capital’s Christmas lights and undertake family activities throughout the evening. Families on the Caribbean coast tend to light their candles early on December 8th and people in Cali stroll along the Cali River, which is always illuminated for the occasion.

Noche de las velitas

Photo: Luz Adriana Villa

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights (alumbrados navideños in Spanish) are a big deal in Colombia and Medellin is most famous for its displays, with an extravaganza that focuses on the Medellin River and covers around 100 city parks.

The lights follow a theme, such as “Values Illuminate Christmas” which told of a girl named Paloma who travelled the River of Peace. Every year more than four million people enjoy Medellin’s display and the event is the city’s biggest tourist attraction, with a USD$10million budget. National Geographic selected Medellin as one of the world’s best for Christmas lights.

Christmas2004inMedellín.JPG
Christmas2004inMedellín” by Aliman5040 – taken by Alejandra Zapata (my cousine). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Aguinaldos

Colombians have a great sense of humor and love making their friends, family and office colleagues work for their Christmas treats. That’s right, the country’s famed aguinaldos are games or challenges that end on Christmas Eve, when gifts are finally presented. Among such games are “three feet” (tres pies) where you have to avoid your opponent placing their foot between yours, “straw in the mouth” (pajita en boca) which involves keeping a straw in your mouth all day and “stolen kiss” (beso robado). These games can get out of hand. You have been warned.

(You may also enjoy: How to play Colombia’s favorite childhood games)

senor

Photo: Ginny

Novena

The Novena of Aguinaldos is a set of prayers recited the nine days before Christmas and a social event too, when families and friends come together to eat, pray and sing Christmas carols (villancicos). The novena is prayed and hosted at a different home each night in honor of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Wise Men and Baby Jesus, who went to a different place each night seeking shelter. The novenas are held from December 16th to December 24th and the prayers are either recited individually or as a group, usually from a book that is passed between the guests and read aloud.

Natilla en navidad

Photo: Mario Carvajal

Festive Food

Christmas is not Christmas without food and Colombia is no different. Natilla is probably the country’s most beloved Christmas snack, a custard dish made with milk that resembles a flan or pudding and is eaten alongside other festive favorites such as buñuelos (delicious fried dough balls, served hot) Manjar blanco, a milky spread made with milk, rice and sugar is also eaten, along with hojuelas, flaky, battered snacks that go perfectly with the other Christmas goodies on the table, especially during the novenas.

Natillas caseras

Photo: Juantiagues

(You may also enjoy: Six “perfect moment” Colombian treats you just have to try)

Visit Colombia and experience a Christmas full of love, light and tasty treats. If you liked this article please feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of your social networks.