(thanks to Lcacique from PBH)
Christmas in Colombia is primarily a religious holiday. Presents are brought by El Niño Dios (Baby Jesus) instead of Papá Noél (Santa Claus), whose gift giving role has been downplayed some by the Church. However, Santa Claus is still an important Christmas figure, as Santa decorations are common, and Santa can be seen posing for pictures at shopping malls.
While Christmas decorations may be put up as early as the beginning of November, the unofficial start of Colombian Christmas festivities takes place on December 7, Día de las Velitas, or “Day of the Candles.” At night, the streets, sidewalks, balconies, porches, and driveways are decorated with candles and paper lanterns, which illuminate cities and towns in a yellow glow to honor the Immaculate Conception on the following day, December 8. Activities such as musical events and firework displays are planned by cities and held during this time.
In many cities, and even in small rural towns, neighborhoods get together and decorate their whole neighborhood or street, turning streets into virtual “tunnels of light.” Many radio stations and local organizations hold contests for the best display of lights, making the competition for the best light show a serious event.
Fireworks were a common item during the holiday season in Colombia, often going on at any time of the day everyday in many cities, but a recent ban of fireworks has decreased the use of fireworks, and now only cities or towns are able to hold firework displays.
December 16 is the first day of the Christmas Novena, a devotion consisting of prayer said on nine successive days, the last one held on Christmas Eve. The Novena is promoted by the Church as a staple of Christmas, and is very similar to the posadas celebrated in Mexico. It is a call for an understanding of the religious meaning of Christmas, and a way to counter the commercialism of the Christmas season. Individual traditions concerning the Novena may vary, but most families set up a pesebre (manger scene), sing religious Christmas carols called villancicos accompanied by tambourines, bells, and other simple percussion instruments, and read verses from the Bible as well as an interpretation which may change from year to year. From December 16 to 18, some people play games called aguinaldos. The games include Hablar y no contestar, Dar y no recibir, Si y no, Tres pies, Beso robado, and Pajita en boca.
Churches offer nightly masses during the nine days of the novena, culminating with the Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass) on Christmas Eve at midnight.
Christmas Eve is the most important day of Christmas in Colombia. Families and friends get together to pray the last Novena and wait until midnight to open the presents, parties are held until sunrise on Christmas Day, kids stay up late playing with their new presents, and fireworks fill the skies. Because Christmas eve is the most important day, little goes on on December 25.