The thing I enjoyed most exploring different countries are the customs and traditions. Living in Colombia, I really enjoy celebrating the traditional festivities and learning about the culture and people of this beautiful country. This year I celebrated the Christmas season to the fullest with my Colombian family – and I want to share with you 6 very Colombian Christmas traditions – that was totally new to me, coming from Europe. To sum it up, Colombian Christmas is all about celebration – because Colombians like their rumba (Spanish for “celebration”).
Dia de las Velitas (Spanish for “Day of the little candles”)
Colombians start the Christmas season on the 7th of December – when they light up the whole country. On the night of this day, the family comes together and they light dozens of candles. Why? Because they want to light the way for the Virgin Mary, which comes to bless their homes. It is a beautiful spectacle because all the streets and homes are filled with lights – the symbol of hope. There is one special ritual I liked the most – everyone lights one candle and makes a wish while watching the candle burn down. A wonderful meditation to connect to your very own light.
Because Colombians like to play – they invented a game they play during the whole month. How you play it? You choose a partner and whatever that person asks you, you cannot answer any question with yes or no, because every time you lose you have to pay a small amount of money (usually around 500 pesos which equal 12 cents). Now imagine how much money you could make playing this game all December …
Las Novenas (Spanish for “The Ninth”)
Starting on the 16th December, Colombians celebrate nine nights straight, without exception. Every evening the whole family gathers to pray and sing together. Traditionally each night is hosted by another family member who organises a whole night of prayer, food, songs and dancing. There exists a specific prayer for every night leading up to the birth of Jesus. The traditional food shared after every prayer are Buñuelos (fried dough balls) and Natilla (spiced custard with blackberry sauce). To sum this tradition up, it is basically 9 nights of straight (holy) party.
La noche de navidad (Spanish for “Christmas Night”)
The 24th of December is celebrated in family. In the past, as my Colombian mom told me, Christmas night was all about celebration – fireworks, food and dancing all night long. They even danced in the streets – with the neighbours, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. And they danced until the sunrise. Nowadays Christmas is a little bit calmer and the people do not stay awake the whole night (but still love their celebration).
Fun fact: presents are only shared after 12pm – because that is when baby Jesus was born. Colombia is a very catholic country – and who brings the presents is not Santa Claus, it is actually baby Jesus. The whole Christmas season is actually shaped around the birth of Jesus. Santa Claus is more of a commercial figure. So all the children have to wait until 12pm for their presents. And the adults have to wait until 12pm to finally eat because food is shared only after the arrival of Jesus.
The typical food shared on Christmas eve is Lechona (stuffed pig), Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken), Buñuelos (fried dough balls), Tamales (homemade, banana-leaf-wrapped corn filling), turkey sandwich and potato salad.
Dia de los Innocentes (Spanish for “Day of the innocents”)
When all the Christmas fun seems to be over, Colombians start to make fun. What the rest of the world knows as April fools the Colombians celebrate on the 28th of December. This day everyone makes fun of each other, tells jokes and watches funny videos – because also on TV you only find funny programs. I just love that Colombians end the year with a good laugh.
One thing that cannot be missing during Christmas time, is the decoration. But Christmas deco in Colombia is not about simple fairy lights and traditional wood carvings (like in Europe), it is all about Bling Bling Bling. What does that mean? All the parks, streets, malls and houses are covered in colourful lights – that change their colour every second. I have to admit at the beginning this was really disturbing to my eyes, as I felt more like an electronic rave than a Christmas decoration. Apart from the bling-bling and the traditional Christmas tree, there exists a lot more very corny decoration – imagine that even the toilets in the house of my Colombian family are decorated (they are wearing Christmas clothes …). But there is one decoration that Colombians are very serious about, and that is the Pesebre (Spanish for “Nativity Scene”). You can be 100 % sure that you will find a Pesebre in each and every Colombian household. And they even make an art out of it – there are even whole Youtube channels about the creation of very detailed and beautiful Pesebres.
Christmas in Colombia is about celebrating in family. It’s about being grateful for all the blessings. It is about going inwards. It is about having fun. It is about sharing the most precious gift we have to give – time.
We celebrated in the house of my Colombian mom – and she is a Christmas deco queen – if you are interested in seeing a traditional Colombian house during Christmas – and want to see all those traditions live and in colour – check out this video I made:
And if you are now seriously interested in buying a Christmas deco for your toilet – this is my absolute favourite toilet Christmas decoration.
Thank you for appreciating my art!