Colombia is a country full of rich history and festive celebrations when the Christmas season rolls around. Delicious food, religious ceremonies and family games are just some of the historic components of Christmas traditions in Colombia. Please join us on an exploration of Christmas in Colombia!
Colombian Christmas Foods
The Colombian Christmas spirit begins when grandmas join in the kitchen to begin preparing all the delicious traditional Colombian Christmas foods for the holiday season.
One of the most popular dishes is buñuelos, originally from Jewish and Arabian culture. It came to Latin America during the Spanish colonization. These are cheese fritters made of cornstarch, butter and cheese. They are often served with natilla, a sweet dessert made out of milk, butter, panela, cinnamon, and lots of love. The result is a milky jelly that can be eaten with berries, sauce or milk candy. At Christmas adults and kids love preparing this recipe and sharing it.
Another popular Colombian Christmas food is tamales. They are made of corn, wrapped in plantain leaves, and boiled. The tamales vary according to the region. For example, peanuts are used in the Cauca region, while tamales prepared in the Eastern valley used to have turtle meat. Some of them also have rice, peas, eggs, carrots, bacon and chicken.
On Christmas night, families share special dinners, depending on which region of Colombia they are in. Some eat turkey, lechona (pork filled with rice and peas), among other typical dishes.
Colombian Christmas Traditions
While grandmothers cook, the rest of the family begins decorating the house, the streets, and the whole neighborhood. They decorate Christmas trees and the most important thing, the empty cradle where they place Baby Jesus on December 24. The streets are normally decorated with plastic colorful flags and lights. On the streets, they do colorful drawings.
Because everyone is encouraged to follow this custom, many of the small houses are also carefully decorated. The government decorates streets, parks and buildings, and promotes contests to award the best block, home, neighborhood, and mall.
Officially, Christmas traditions in Colombia begin on December 7 when Colombian people celebrate El Día de las Velitas, or Day of the Little Candles. This is an important festivity in which kids and adults join at night to light velitas (little candles) in the streets and windows. Offices and homes are decorated with lanterns and candles that welcome the holiday season. They are accompanied by fireworks.
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The origin of this celebration was in 1854 when Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. In anticipation of this event, people started lighting candles. This Catholic tradition continues to be an important Christmas tradition in Colombia. The image of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus are important figures, rather than Santa Claus.
On December 16 the novenas begin, a special moment of the day in which families, friends and neighbors join to pray on nine successive days, commemorating the birth of Jesus. The last novena is the evening of December 24, when everyone remembers that Jesus came to earth. These traditions are still celebrated and help people to keep in mind the real meaning of Christmas. During this special festivity, people sing Christmas carols, and read Bible verses, among other activities.
On Christmas night, families share a special dinner, then give everyone the presents that the Baby Jesus brought.
One of the funniest traditions are the aguinaldos, which are games that adults and children play, like Tres Pies. Each player tries to put one foot in the middle of the feet of the other players without being noticed. Another funny game is Si y No, in which you are not able to say one of those two words.
On December 28 in Colombia, we celebrate the Innocent Days, a festivity centered around funny jokes. People pull pranks like giving others fake food, inventing stories and so on. On television, they show some of these pranks, and even newspapers join in the fun by publishing funny stories.
Finally, to celebrate the New Year, Colombians have a long-standing tradition of eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. It is custom to eat one grape per chime and make a wish as you eat each grape. Tradition says that each wish will come true in the New Year.
We hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the important Christmas holiday traditions in Colombia to celebrate Jesus’ birthday! We hope you have a very merry Colombian Christmas!
This article was originally published Dec 24, 2010.