Christmas in Colombia is an entirely different experience to what we might be used to back in Europe. As soon as they possibly can, Colombians start to decorate their houses, celebrate the festive season with their family and, as with Christmas elsewhere, eat and drink more than is good for you. Here are just a few of the typically Colombian Christmas celebrations.
La Noche de Las Velitas is celebrated all over Colombia on December 7. In honour of the Virgin Mary, people line the streets, their windows and doorways, parks, squares and any other free space with candles and lanterns. I guess she must have really loved candles. It’s a surreal and spectacular sight and something which everyone gets involved in.
Novenas is a tradition that started in the eighteenth century and is a celebration in honour of Jesus (you might have heard of him). It begins nine days before Christmas and every day people gather in homes, offices and parks to get involved in some singing, praying and general merriment. Of course this is a religious festival but it is also an opportunity to gather the family in celebration and feel the homely warmth of the Colombian festive season.
I’m told that it isn’t just celebrated amongst family though. Allegedly there are late-night-dancing Novenas with friends. Wild.
No, I’m not going to claim that eating food around Christmas time started in Colombia but, as in any country, the traditional dishes play an important role in the celebrations. In Colombia, you’ll be hard pushed to avoid buñuelos and natilla (a custard-based desert made with panela and cinnamon or arequipe). Local delicacies also get heavily involved, so don’t be surprised to find an ajiaco on your Christmas table.
Lights, camera, action
Well, mainly just lights really. Colombian Christmas decorations are at the same time spectacular, gaudy, beautiful, kitsch and outrageously over-the-top. Which is what makes them so fantastic. Next week we will be sharing some photos of the best Christmas lights in Bogota, but it’s not just lights – huge nativity scenes and figurines that seem to have nothing to do with Christmas are rife throughout every Colombian city, town and village throughout the Christmas period.