The Christmas season is looked forward to and celebrated across many countries and cultures. It is one of the most important holidays and truly a month-long celebration in Colombia! While there is no official religion of Colombia, it is estimated that approximately 80-90% of Colombians practice Christianity, the vast majority practicing Catholicism. Below are some of the important days and traditions observed in Colombian culture throughout December you can enjoy with your family as you honor your child's heritage.
December 16th – 24th – Novena of aguinaldos (Novena of baby Jesus)
The nine nights leading up to Christmas day are the novena of aguinaldos. A novena is a period of prayer lasting nine consecutive days in the Roman Catholic religion. Families eat, pray using the Novena de aguinaldos prayer, and sing carols to honor the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the wise men, and baby Jesus for the nine nights leading up to Christmas. Each night, families often gather in a different home and recite the Novena de aguinaldos prayer, written by the nun Maria Ignacia.
Natilla (a custard-like dessert), buñuelos (cheese fritters), and hojuelas (fried pastry) are some of the traditional Christmas treats enjoyed during the novenas and holiday season. Aguardiente (an anise-flavored liquor), beer, and rum are also greatly enjoyed. Rather than Christmas day being the primary day of celebration, December 24th(Nochebuena) is Colombia's biggest night of celebration.
Christmas dinner is eaten on December 24th (sometimes as late as 11pm or midnight) and is known as Cena de Navidad. Lechona (stuffed roasted pig) or Ajiaco Colombiano (a chicken, corn, and potato stew), tamales, and turkey are a few favorites. Still, you may find a variety of other foods depending on where you are celebrating.
Presents on Christmas are a tradition in Colombia. Still, unlike the Anglo-Saxon tradition of Santa Clause, Colombian tradition is that presents are delivered at midnight on December 24th by el Niño Dios, baby Jesus! Because celebrations last into the early hours of Christmas morning, Christmas day (December 25th) is quieter, although still, a day spent with family.
December 28th – Day of the Innocents (Día de los Santos Inocentes)
December 28th is similar to an April Fools Day in Colombia. Although it commemorates the child massacre of King Herod, the day is marked by humor and practical jokes!
December 31st – Fiesta de Fin de Año
Colombians enjoy end-of-the-year festivities, including eating, drinking, and dancing to celebrate new year's eve on December 31st. Family gatherings are common, as well as fireworks and going out to bars or clubs among the younger generation. Colombians also have some unique New Year's Eve traditions, including eating 12 grapes in the 12 seconds leading up to midnight, filling your pockets with lentils to bring prosperity, and burning the Año Nuevo doll to leave behind the previous year.
January 6th - Día de Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day)
January 6th marks the end of the holiday season and is when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem, thus known as Three Kings Day or the Epiphany. It is an official public holiday in Colombia. Because the three wise men brought expensive gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh, some people give gifts on this holiday.
There are many ways to celebrate the Colombian traditions surrounding this holiday season. Whether it's cooking some of the traditional meals or treats, singing some of Colombia's traditional Christmas carols (called villancicos), participating in the novenas, making an Año Nuevo doll or partaking in some of Colombia's other fun New Year's Eve traditions, we hope this season brings you comfort, peace and joy with family members and friends!