The Dia de las Velitas, or Day of the Little Candles, is how most Colombians welcome the Christmas season. Every December 7, families take to the streets to light hundreds of little candles, which are meant to light the way of the Virgin Mary as she comes to bless their home. You will see these glowing beacons lighting the streets of all Colombian towns and cities on this day.
For the nine nights leading up to Christmas, Colombian families gather in each other’s homes, traditionally to recite an old Christmas prayer. While many people still maintain the religious aspect, it has evolved a bit into a good excuse to get together for nine straight nights to eat, drink and generally be merry! Colombians sure do love a party…
Obviously, Christmas lights and nativity scenes are not particularly unusual or unique to Colombia. However, the sheer commitment and scale of Colombian lights and nativities are what makes them stand apart. You will find elaborate nativity scenes – sometimes complete with running water or real plants – in the lobby of most apartment buildings and hotels. And the Christmas lights take it to another level: Medellin, in particular, is famous for the millions of lights they string up in the city every Christmas.
Another Medellin Christmas tradition and a divisive one at that are the Alboradas – every December 1, to welcome the Christmas season, it’s traditional to blow up a tonne of fireworks throughout the city. It’s divisive due to repeated safety concerns and the incredible noise that comes from thousands of people blowing up gunpowder all night! Fun though…
Aguinaldos is the name given to fun little games played by children and adults during the Christmas period. One of the most popular and commonly played is known as Tres Pies: players try to surreptitiously slip one foot in between the feet of their opponents without them noticing. Another popular one is Si o No – basically, you can’t say one of those words.
While many countries await the arrival of Santa Claus bearing gifts for the kids, in Colombia, it’s a little different: children stay up until late on December 24 to receive presents delivered by…the Baby Jesus himself! You still see lots of images and colourful lights bearing the image of jolly old Santa, but that’s more down to the influence of TV and movies than a cultural thing. Some people might think it seems a tad mean to have Baby Jesus delivering the presents – it is his birthday and all – but it’s an important Colombian Christmas tradition nonetheless.
If you thought the fun ended on December 25, then you haven’t celebrated Christmas in Colombia! On December 28, the whole country celebrates the Day of the Innocents: people pull pranks, play practical jokes, and just generally try to amuse each other and themselves! After the glow of Christmas had faded, it’s a great way to get your spirits back up in preparation for the New Year.