Spending Christmas in Colombia is unlike anything you’re likely to experience anywhere else in the world. From the food to some interesting and downright wacky traditions, here’s how to make sure you have a blast and spend the festive seasons like a local.
1. Noche de las Velitas
Día de las Velitas, one of the most traditional holidays in Colombia, officially marks the beginning of Christmas!
Christmas officially begins in Colombia on the 7th of December with the Noche de las Velitas or the Little Candle Day. Children and families head out into their neighbourhoods and light candles on the footpaths, roads and windowsills of the area. The tradition is said to have begun in the 1800s as a way of celebrating the Virgin Mary.
2. Join in a family novena
For a full-on family experience in Colombia, gather around the Christmas tree and sing the novena together
There is a real emphasis on family during Christmas in Colombia and that means there are loads of opportunities to get up close and personal with the locals during this time. Perhaps you can even get invited to a novena, which is a catholic tradition when family get together to sing religious songs and prayers. Novena, meaning nine, signifies the nine days of prayer in the lead up to Christmas. Often, people will sit around the Christmas tree and sing about baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Here are the lyrics to one popular song, so you can join in if you find yourself invited to a novena yourself.
Ven, ven ven
Ven a nuestras almas
Jesus ven ven,
ven ven ven a nuestras almas
Jesus ven a nuestras almas
Nooo tardes tanto no tardes tanto
Jesus ven ven, ven, ven.
3. Eat your weight in natilla and buñuelos
A Christmas feast in Colombia is never complete without the delicious navilla & buñuelos combo! / Source
As much as Christmas in Colombia is about family, it’s also about sharing, cooking and eating food. Some of the most popular Colombian foods to eat around Christmas time are natilla and buñuelos.
Natilla is a wobbly custard-like dessert made from milk, blocks of brown sugar called panela and cinnamon. But natilla isn’t the same without an important accompaniment: buñuelos. These doughy fried cheese balls are irresistible and will surely have you putting on the Christmas pounds in no time. It’s totally worth it, though!
4. Visit Los Alumbrados in Medellín
Watching the lights placed along the river and La Playa Avenue in Medellín is a must-do! / Source
Spending Christmas in Colombia just wouldn’t be the same without taking in the millions of Christmas lights that have been carefully placed along the river and La Playa Avenue in Medellín. Each year the public-utility company Empresas Publicas de Medellín (EPM) sponsors the light show, but that’s not the only thing worth marvelling over. There’s also a full street dedicated to food to
indulge in, including arepas, chorizo and other fried snacks.
5. Run around the house in your yellow underwear
Make sure to wear your yellow knickers on NYE for luck in the new year! | AFP PHOTO
Unlike other parts of the world, Christmas in Colombia is basically a month-long holiday that goes from the beginning of December, sometimes even earlier, until well into January, so New Year actually becomes part of the festivities. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Colombians take part is some interesting traditions, including wearing new yellow underwear and running around the house. Pack some of your favourite yellow knickers and get ready, because apparently it helps to ensure the next year is full of luck, success and happiness.
6. Run around the street with a suitcase
If running around the house in your new yellow underwear sounds interesting, well, it doesn’t stop there. Another tradition includes running around the block with a suitcase, which is said to bring lots of travel opportunities the coming year.
7. Eat 12 grapes
Don’t forget to eat exactly 12 grapes after midnight for prosperity in the upcoming year!
Another way to bring luck for the New Year is to eat 12 grapes. Some say the grapes signify each of the 12 months to come while others say they represent each of the 12 clock chimes at midnight. Either way, if it means our New Years are going to be lucky, prosperous and happy, it’s worth a shot.
8. El Año Viejo
It’s not as scary as it looks like! Colombians burn the past year’s bad energy for new good vibes
After Christmas in Colombia is done and dusted, the locals will often make a life-sized doll to represent the old year called el Año Viejo. Sometimes it can represent a particular person or event, or simply be a symbolic representation of the year that has passed. Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, families set their dolls on fire to get rid of the old or bad energy from the year passed and prepare for the good in the year to come.
By Sarah Duncan, author of the Colombian-specialized blog Sarepa
Have you spent Christmas in Colombia? Which traditions did you take part in? Let us know all about it in the comments section below.