The holidays here are really magical. People really get into it. Christmas is a month-long celebration, focusing on the birth of Jesus, family togetherness, and fun. I don’t hear anybody complaining about how much they have to do or how stressed they are. On the contrary, everybody seems to be in a great mood and really into the holiday spirit. It’s beautiful and a nice change of pace.
Decorating houses for Christmas begins in mid-November here as people put up elaborately decorated Christmas trees, pesebres (nativity scenes), angels, garlands, you name it. Then the celebrations begin on December 7th with “El Dia de las Velitas” (the day of candles), which celebrates the night before the Immaculate Conception. Everybody lights candles or lanterns and leaves them burning in the windows. It is believed that if you do this, the Virgin Mary will come and bless you. On this night people gather to celebrate, to pray, and to sing Christmas carols. It’s also common to go for family walks to see the town all lit up.
Then on December 16th begins the “Novena”, the nine days before Christmas Day when people prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ by going to church and/or gathering with friends and family to pray, sing, and feast. It’s common for large families to take turns hosting these celebrations but the point is to celebrate every night. Public novena celebrations are also held in town squares.
The Novena culminates on Christmas Eve when families gather to celebrate waiting until midnight to open the gifts. It is believed that baby Jesus (rather than Santa) brings gifts to children. These celebrations are sometimes very religious and sometimes focus more on singing, eating and drinking, but they all last into the early hours of the morning. December 25th then is a mellow day to hang out with family and recover from the night before.
The Christmas season ends on January 7th with the celebration of Three Kings Day (when the kings come to visit Jesus with the revelation that he is the son of God, if I understand this correctly). I should mention that throughout this season, fireworks are very popular (not our favorite part as they go off in the middle of the night).
So yes, it is a month of Colombia doing what Colombians do best – celebrating. I am very much looking forward to this experience. We have been invited to a couple of novena celebrations and to spend Christmas eve with Ana Maria’s family so that should be fun.
Meanwhile, I am conscious of not getting so swept up by Christmas here that we abandon my Jewish roots. I am researching latke recipes and plan to have a Hannukah gathering for the neighbors, with latkes, geld, and dreidel games. I love the holidays!