A couple of days ago I was invited to a Novenas to take part in a tradition that is truly unique to Colombia and parts of Venezuela and Ecuador. My experience of the celebration suggests that it is a gathering of the whole family (and a random Arab) at one of the family members’ houses to pray, sing some Colombian Christmas carols (which, by the way, are so much better than the ones I’m used to in England. Apparently they don’t need to be sombre, monotonous and slow), drink a really small glass of wine and eat some awesome food.
Novenas is a tradition that started at some time in the eighteenth century and is a celebration in honour of Jesus (who else?). It starts 9 days before Christmas and the idea is that every day people will gather in homes, offices and parks to get involved in some singing, praying and general merriment.
Typically, buñuelos and natilla (a custard-based desert made with panela and cinnamon or arequipe) are served after the praying is over. Then it seems that everyone gets out of there pretty swiftly. But then again, if you have to see these people nine days running (not to mention Christmas and New Year), it’s wise to save your conversation.
Of course this is a religious festival but to me it seemed more like a family celebration and an opportunity to gather and feel the homely warmth of the Colombian festive season (forgive me if this is starting to sound like a below-par Tim Allen Christmas movie).
I’m told that it isn’t just celebrated amongst family, apparently there are late-night-dancing Novenas with friends. Wild.