In a diverse country such as Colombia, you will find different kinds of weather according to the region you are visiting, different dishes, over 70 different dialects–as well as diverse traditions for observing the Christmas holiday.
Christmas in Colombia is a fun celebration that gathers the families within the community, as there is a sense of sharing with the community during the Christmas seasons. That sense of sharing has its roots in the Catholic Church, since the Catholic community has made a lasting mark in Colombia history from the colonization of the Spaniards five hundred years ago.
Although there are traditions that rule the celebration, there are some variations across the territory. No matter where you are traveling in the country you will see customs such as the letter to El Niño Dios (Translation: Baby God, or Baby Jesus, there the equivalent to Santa Claus) or the Aguinaldos, which refers to an exchange of gifts between family members or friends. For the children who believe in El Niño Dios, they receive their best gift on the 25th and not earlier because they expect to see the gifts they wanted most brought by El Niño Dios.
Today, Christmas is more colorful than ever: Many capital cities invest in decorating the city with regional themes, mix international traditions such as lighting a Christmas Tree in public places–something that wasn't done until the late 1990s–or the children taking a photo with Santa Claus, which began in Bogata eight years ago in a shopping mall. Those things weren´t done prior to that due to strong religious beliefs, but now people are more open and celebrate different holiday traditions with more respect than years before.
How is food reflected in the Christmas traditions unique to Colombia? To start, the first tradition is linked to the table–yes, we can’t speak about traditions if we don’t mention the typical dishes that are served on Christmas Eve. The most well known is the Natilla Dessert, which is a dish made of eggs, milk and sugar, served mostly in the Central Region. Another dessert is El Tres Leches (Translation: Tree Milk Dessert) which a dessert made of milk and sugar that is really popular among children due to the sweet flavor and the jelly texture.
On December 7th is The Day of the Candles: This is the day according to the Catholic tradition commemorating the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary. People go out and light candles in the street. One week and a day after The Day of Candles, the eve of Christmas starts with Las Novenas. They are meetings that people do at different houses, to commemorate the nine days before Jesus was born; people gather, pray and feast together. These meetings are held in different places for nine consecutive days; hence the name Novenas, which is the feminine form of nine (novenus).
A new tradition is the Christmas tree; there is not an exact date when it was brought for the very first time. Some historians speculate it was around the 1960s with the rising of Protestant churches around the territory, and the custom was incorporated with old traditions. The original tradition was to create nativity scenes, a small scale model of which represents the journey of Mary and Joseph to Belen until the nativity of Jesus.
Fireworks are prohibited in the territory; no one can sell them or ignite them unless they have a professional license. That ban is because many people have been burned during the festivities and the government imposed it to avoid any tragedies at what was supposed to be a happy time for everyone.
Families gather around the 24th to have a family meal, something traditional that coincides with an American tradition. They eat turkey as if it were Thanksgiving; the theory is similar to Thanksgiving as people are with their families and enjoy a happy time together. They give thanks for everything good that happened that year. Families finish with the meal on the 24th and they go and have gift exchanges before waiting for Christmas Day.
Christmas, as with many other holidays, is a time to spend with family, friends and loved ones. It is a time to reflect on the many blessings and gifts you've enjoyed throught the year. What are some of your unique Christmas traditions?