Dec 22

Comparing cultures: Christmas in Colombia and Christmas away from Colombia

Only a few days until Christmas and we at See Colombia Travel are getting very excited. Since many of us are foreign, each year we learn a great deal about Christmas here in Colombia, and how it differs from back home. We’ve already written about Colombian Christmas traditions, so we thought it’d be nice to hear from two very different perspectives about Christmas in Colombia.

First we asked a Colombian living abroad (in Spain) what differs the most from what she’s used to, and what she’ll miss the most. Then we spoke to our resident copy writer, Ryan, about what surprised him in Colombia, and what he’ll miss from the UK. Here’s what they had to say.

Isabel Cuadros

Lights in Cali (Photo courtesy of Mario Carvajal - www.flickr.com/photos/mario_carvajal/4168323029/)
Lights in Cali (Photo courtesy of Mario Carvajal – www.flickr.com/photos/mario_carvajal/4168323029/)

For me as a Colombian Christmas season officially starts on the 8th of December when everybody lights candles, but here in Spain they don’t have that tradition. It doesn’t like Christmas has started yet. Personally I think that the Spanish people, or at least the ones in the zone where I live, start Christmas decoration too late, maybe it’s because as a Colombian I’m used to seeing all kind of crazy Christmas stuff as soon as Halloween is over.

It seems that here in Pamplona it’s not Santa Claus who brings presents, but Olentzero (a Basque Christmas traditional character) that’s the one in charge of that, so in the city they organize a parade in his honor, he is depicted in many different ways and they sing carols about him; songs that I will probably not sing as I don’t get a word of Euskara.

From Colombia I will miss my family of course but apart from that I think I will miss the food; actually right now I would kill for a big amount of buñuelos made by my mum and also her natilla with cinnamon. But definitely one of the things I will miss the most is the warm weather, because in my family is a tradition to go to the coast to spend the holidays there but this year I will have to celebrate in the cold.

Ryan Wallace

As an Englishman, it was strange for me to see just how early things start in Colombia when it comes to Christmas. We usely bemoan the appearance of decorations and Christmas gifts in shops when October arrives, saying it’s too early, but here I even saw trees appear in people’s houses at the beginning of November! Not only that but, as you get closer and closer to Christmas, the cities become absolutely inundated with lights (especially in Medellin). The displays aren’t always the most tasteful, but you have to admire the enthusiasm.

Another thing curious to me was the ‘novenas’ which are a Christmas tradition in Colombia. The novenas start 9 days before Christmas and it’s not uncommon to attend a few with family, friends and workmates all being involved. I was told to expect lots of singing and praying which really didn’t sound like my kind of thing, but when I was at my first novena I actually found it quite moving.

Firstly, a few people pray by reading aloud to the group from a sheet of paper. Once this finishes people begin singing, using percussive instruments as a backdrop (or at least that’s what happened where I was). The prayers then begin again, with each prayer punctuated by song. It’s a nice ritual and really brings home the sense of family at Christmas, which although not lacking back home, is certainly emphasized in a different way.

A big, tasty Christmas dinner
A big, tasty Christmas dinner (Photo courtesy of Tom Hodgkinson –

What will I miss from back home? Of course my family, but also the cold. It’s strange for me to be somewhere warm and it lacks that special ‘Christmas’ feeling I’m so used to associating with cold and snow. I see pictures of Santa as I walk around Bogota and he’s surrounded by snow while I’m in a t-shirt. Very strange for me. Oh, and Christmas dinner. Boy will I miss Christmas dinner.

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