Christmas Traditions differ from country to country, so celebrating away from home and in a different country may feel slightly strange at first. However, Colombia can be a pretty fun place to experience the holiday. 

For Colombians, Christmas is one of the most important holidays of the year, and they have some unique traditions and festivals to celebrate. Here are some of the most exciting ways to celebrate Christmas in Colombia.

Little Candles Day

Celebrated on December 7th, Little Candles Day is one of the nation’s most popular traditions. The date symbolizes the eve of the Immaculate Conception. It was officially marked by Pope Piux IX in 1854. Most Colombians identify as Christian, so many national holidays are tied to Catholicism, and traditions are followed closely.

During Little Candles Day, Colombians place small lanterns and candles on balconies and windowsills. As a result, the cities across Colombia are illuminated with millions of lights. 

In Bogota, they go a step further by closing down some main roads so its residents can marvel at the scenery and enjoy Christmas festivities. Whereas in Cali, families stroll along the river, which is adorned with decorative lights. While along the Caribbean coast, people begin lighting candles a day later, on 8th December.

The Novena of Aguinaldos

The Novena of Aguinaldos or Praying the Novena, is a collection of prayers recited for the nine before Christmas. These gatherings take place at a different person’s house every night. So, the tradition is a time for family and friends to get together and eat, drink and pray.

Every recital is dedicated to a different holy figure and honors the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Wise Men, and Baby Jesus, who went to a different place each night to seek shelter. 

Novenas can be hosted with friends, co-workers, or family; there is no limit to who you can invite! While in Colombia, you may be invited to quite a few yourself. Be prepared to indulge in many traditional foods, sing Christmas songs, and play fun games.

Related article: Where to Spend Christmas in Colombia

Juegos del Aguinaldos

These nightly games are where the real fun begins! They are played for the nine nights of The Novena and are an enjoyable addition to the festivities.

The word Aguinaldos translates to the act of receiving a prize for an achievement. So, the games are made more exciting with small gifts for winners. Participants collect points until Christmas eve where the games end and the presents are finally given. 

Beso Robado is a fun game where couples try to steal a kiss from each other. Estatua  involves catching a player in an awkward position and commanding them to hold the stance, while Pajita in Boca requires participants to keep a straw in their mouth the entire evening!

Nativity Scenes and Christmas Lights

Of course, nativity scenes and Christmas lights aren’t unique to Colombia. However, the sheer extravagance and dedication of these festive decorations set them apart. Impressive nativity scenes can be seen in most public places like malls, hotels, and apartment complexes. 

However, these life-size scenes sometimes have real running water and plants. Miniature versions are as common as Christmas trees in Colombian households. Here, children write wishlists to baby Jesus and place them on the nativity scene. 

This is an important tradition as Colombian children don’t believe in Santa bringing gifts but instead believe in Jesus himself delivering presents.

The Big Fiestas

The month of December can feel like one big party, however there are also some very specific dates in December that Colombians celebrate. 

Medellin has its first big party on 30th November. When the clock strikes 12 midnight, the city erupts with fireworks as its residents celebrate the beginning of December. 

Although Colombian have mini celebrations for the 9 days of The Novena, the most important party is held on December 24th. This huge celebration includes a decadent Christmas dinner, an exchange of gifts, and a midnight mass, where people stay awake to welcome in Christmas Day. In contrast, the 25th is a day to relax, sleep in and recover from the previous day’s festivities.

Innocent Days

If you thought the holiday fun ended on the 25th, you haven’t experienced a Colombian Christmas! On the 28th of December, with festive spirits still high, Colombians play cheeky practical jokes and pranks on their friends and family. Innocents Day is a great way to keep the energy up in preparation for New Year. 

This concept may sound a little familiar. Well, that’s because this day is celebrated on April 1st by people in Europe and the United States, in what is called April Fools day!

Just like April Fool’s day, the jokes played on Innocents Day are always light-hearted and intended to make people laugh. Some classic Colombian pranks include switching the sugar for salt, changing the time on the clock, or drawing spiders on the toilet roll. 

After a successful prank, remember to say “feliz Día de Los Inocentes” or (Happy Holy Innocents Day). 

Celebrate Christmas in Colombia

However you decide to celebrate Christmas, you won’t be short of things to do. Colombia has many activities and festivities for you to take part in. 

Hold your own party, play some practical jokes on your friends, or visit one of the many nativity scenes!

Written by Merowe Davis / PanamericanWorld