Let Colombians Inspire Your Christmas Spirit
MARIA ALEJANDRA FONTECHA
RESEARCH ASSISTANT, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY
Colombia, the beautiful. Not for its cheap stereotype of narcotics and political unrest, what only outsiders may see as the fable realm of Pablo Escobar. No, the beauty – the true heart of the nation is there if you’d only look closely: Its passion for life, a love for people both familiar and foreign, and a longing to give of themselves wholeheartedly. The Colombian heart rejoices in open spaces so that people of all shapes and sizes can come together to share in their love for music, dance, and tradition.
Put it all together, at its heart is an extravagant Colombian party.
Colombians are good at finding reasons to celebrate but Christmas is unique because it is a mixture of their religious fervor, their love for musical rhythm, and their mouth-watering foods. On December 7th, the celebrations begin 18 days before Christmas day with their dedication to their Christian faith (95% of its population is Christian in 2020). La Noche De Las Velitas, (“Night of the Candles”) begins by families lighting candles outside of the windows or front doors to guide the way for the Virgin Mary as she comes to bless their home. With each lighted candle, people ask wishes of the upcoming year and give thanks for the blessings of the previous year. Colombians take gratitude seriously because it conveys the upmost respect. While each region adds their own special touch to these traditions, we all celebrate through extravagant light displays and elaborate nativity scenes. Medellin is especially famous for their impressive light displays that begin December 1.
Continuing the celebration of the coming Lord, for nine night leading up to Christmas day, Novenas de Aguinaldos (the ninth nights leading up to Christmas day) has become much more than a religious observance – it is a celebration of community. “The Ninths” begins by gathering with friends and family and making traditional Colombian food like buñuelo y natilla (custard-based dessert made with cinnamon and molasses).People recite special prayers to all the saints and sing Villancicos Navideñas (traditional songs otherwise known as Christmas carols) to welcome the Lord Jesus.
But praying and singing are not the only ways to have a party, as Colombians cannot celebrate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ without a little aguardiente (Colombian brandy) as an essential part of the holiday traditions. And while the world anticipates the arrival of Santa Clause, children await gifts from baby Jesus himself (El niño Dios). I mean, it just doesn’t get better than that. As with many Latin American countries, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th and with the last Novena, the family gathers for a great dinner around 11pm, after which, children open gifts from El niño Jesus at midnight. The celebration continues all the way until dawn. Dancing to cumbias y vallenatos (two popular Colombian genres played with the accordion) with uncles and aunts at grandmother’s house is exactly what it sounds like: crazy, full of laughter, and full of stories.
While some might think December 7th is too early to celebrate, a good party never waits. Candles lighting the roads, huge nativity displays adorning parks and town squares, foods inspiring wonder and delight, and of course, fireworks rivaling July 4th all signal our favorite month: December. And all of this creativity from a nation that takes to heart its joyful spirit, its thankful heart, and its love for community.