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The 12 Most Celebrated Christmas Traditions in Colombia

Dia de las Velitas - Candles Day December in Colombia

Updated on 04/17/2024

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From candles to Christmas Eve, Colombians have many Christmas traditions. Some of them will catch your attention. So, we invite you to know the 11 most popular Christmas traditions and how Colombians celebrate them joyfully.

Setting up Nativity Scenes in Homes

Nativity scenes in Colombia are an essential part of Christmas decoration. They represent the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem, along with Joseph, Mary, and the Three Wise Men.

Colombians strive to recreate them in their homes as realistically as possible by adding villages, animals, trees, rivers, and other elements. An interesting tradition is that the figure of baby Jesus isn’t placed in the manger until midnight on December 24th, symbolizing his actual birth. Usually, the Nativity scene is set up next to the Christmas tree.

Nativity scenes aren’t just made in homes; they’re also created on larger scales in some squares and towns as part of the Christmas decorations, alongside light displays and a grand Christmas tree.

Light decorations fro the light festival in Boyacá

Singing Christmas Carols

Christmas carols are traditional songs, especially popular during the Christmas season. These songs often have lyrics celebrating the birth of Jesus, narrating Christmas-related stories from the Bible, or conveying messages of happiness and hope.

It is believed that these songs originated during the Renaissance period in Spain and Portugal. Initially, their themes revolved around the everyday life of the people. Centuries later, they began to delve into religious topics. Consequently, the masters of the chapels were obliged to prepare a new Christmas carol every year to enrich the repertoire and voices.

Reciting the “Novena de Aguinaldos”

The “Novena de Aguinaldos” is one of the most important traditions of Colombian Christmas. Essentially, it consists of a series of nine days of prayers and reflections commemorating the nine months of the Virgin Mary’s pregnancy, culminating in the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. It’s celebrated nightly from December 16th to 24th.

During these dates, families and friends gather in their homes or even in public places, singing carols to the rhythm of tambourines and maracas, reciting prayers, and sharing delicious traditional dishes.

It’s worth clarifying that novenas are understood as a tradition within the Catholic religion. Therefore, it consists of several components, including daily prayer, prayer to the Virgin Mary, prayer to Saint Joseph, joyful mysteries, and a prayer to the infant Jesus. However, many people celebrate it simply for the festive, familial, and Christmas atmosphere.

Preparing and Sharing Traditional Dishes

Food during the December holidays holds immense traditional and emotional value for Colombians. This is because from childhood, a large banquet is prepared and shared with family, especially on Christmas Eve night.

Some standout dishes during the Christmas dinner and other December celebrations include “natilla” (a type of custard), “buñuelos” (fried dough balls), “matrimonios” (fruit punch served with cookies), tamales, “lechona” (suckling pig), pork leg, turkey (either in fillets or stuffed), fruitcake, and “brevas” (figs). However, each region also prepares its own typical dishes.

In many households, these dishes are so significant and carry so many influences from recipes of past generations that people choose to sacrifice the animals they will consume themselves. For example, some individuals slaughter pigs, so they make their own roasts, tamales, blood sausages, and so forth. This way, they make use of the entire animal’s meat and prepare their dishes according to their preferences.

Lechona with glasses

Day of the Little Candles, a Famous Celebration

December 7th, or 7 de Velitas as Colombians call it, is a very popular and attended date that is also followed by a public holiday in Colombia. This celebration consists of lighting candles to commemorate the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary as the chosen mother of Jesus Christ.

This celebration originated in 1854 when Pope IX proclaimed December 8th as the day of the Virgin Mary, and many pilgrims attended the vigil in Rome’s square, participating with candles and candelabras as a form of respect and devotion. Over time, the custom was adopted in Colombia.

On this day, Colombians light lanterns and many candles in the streets of their neighborhoods, in parks, gardens, or inside their own homes. Some people say a prayer to the Virgin, and for each lit candle, they make wishes for health, prosperity, love, among others.

If you are visiting and want to participate in this tradition, you can go to public places such as parks, streets, and community halls. For example, in Bogotá, many people light their candles and enjoy the event in the park and in Simon Bolivar Square, in La Candelaria, among other places.

On the Day of the Little Candles, it’s common to eat typical dishes such as natilla, buñuelos, and matrimonios.

Celebrating Christmas Fairs

Christmas fairs in Colombia are quite varied. Therefore, numerous activities are carried out, including:

  • Sales of entrepreneurial products
  • Sharing of typical Christmas dishes
  • Novenas
  • Cultural displays
  • Musical events
  • The annual light display held in the most important parks and squares of the city.

Many of Colombia’s major cities have their own traditional activities, which include cultural aspects of each region.

Giving out Gifts or “Aguinaldos”

“Aguinaldos” is a Colombian term for the gifts given during the month of December, mostly on the night of the 24th or the day of the 25th. Particularly in Colombia, they are given or placed under the Christmas tree on the 24th, and they are unveiled just as the clock strikes midnight. Of course, this comes after having completed the novena and the Christmas dinner.

This is one of Colombians’ favorite traditions, so the economy during these times is very active. In fact, in chain stores and commercial sectors of the cities, the demand from buyers is enormous, and shortages of some products can be seen. And of course, this results in endless lines on dates close to December 24th.

Giving Hampers

Hampers are baskets filled with typical Christmas dishes for preparation or snacks, such as:

  • Flour for making natilla
  • Flour for making buñuelos
  • Wines
  • Peaches in syrup
  • Arequipe
  • Sweet biscuits
  • Charcuterie
  • Sweets
  • Panettones

Usually, during the Christmas season, you can find them in all supermarkets, and it’s common to buy them to eat at Christmas celebrations or give them as gifts. Likewise, companies often give them to their employees around Christmas Eve.

Tropical Music is a Must in December

During the December season, Colombians listen to some very representative types of music that bring joy to Christmas. Cumbia, porros, and tropical music are some of the most popular genres in December and are indispensable in any of their celebrations.

Among its greatest exponents are Pastor López, Rodolfo Aicardi, Los 50 de Joselito, and Los Corraleros de Majagual. One very popular album in December, if not the most famous, is “Los 14 Cañonazos Bailables,” which compiled the 14 most representative songs of that 1961 when it was released. However, nowadays there are over 35 volumes, and during December events, compilations of all of them are generally heard.

This album not only embellishes any celebration and sets the perfect mood for dancing, but since its inception, it has sought to pay tribute to the stories and Colombian tropical music. Among the genres on this album are merengue, salsa, vallenato, tropical, among others.

If you are in the country during December, you will hear national radio stations with special seasonal music, even months before. “Since September, you can feel December,” is announced on the popular station Olímpica Estéreo.

Celebrating Christmas Eve in a Colombian way

To celebrate the night of December 24th, the traditional family Christmas dinner is prepared, which includes the aforementioned traditional dishes. The common order of Christmas Eve celebration is first the novena, the dinner consumed before midnight, and finally, the distribution of gifts.

It’s also the last day of reciting the novena of aguinaldos, singing carols, and listening to popular December music. For many Colombians, it’s a moment of festivity, celebration, and family unity.

Therefore, many people have a few drinks and spend much of the night dancing classics with their partners, family, or friends.

Likewise, it’s common for many guests to spend the night at their hosts’ house. So, it’s usual to have breakfast with family with “hangover-curing” dishes, meaning dishes that provide energy and help reduce hangovers, such as beef rib broth and tamales. Although, breakfast is usually the same as what was eaten at dinner; there’s usually leftovers because large quantities are prepared. As grandmothers say, “it’s better to have leftovers than to run out.”

Attending Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass is a special Eucharist celebrated at midnight on Christmas Eve. Many believing Colombians still tend to attend.

This practice began during the 5th century when Pope Sixtus III established the custom of holding a midnight vigil on the day of Jesus’ celebration, and its name is derived from being celebrated “ad galli cantus” in Latin, meaning with the cock’s crow.

Wearing New Clothes in December

Another curious Colombian custom is wearing new clothes on the most important days of December, the 24th and the 31st. This tradition was very marked in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and was mainly done with children, with the intention of them wearing new garments and looking good in front of relatives.

Clothing is one of the most purchased items in December precisely for this reason. Therefore, the end-of-year discount season is so anticipated. Likewise, merchants offer promotions at very good prices and hold early morning sales, meaning they start selling earlier than usual.

More about events and celebrations in Colombia


About Author



Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia. I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia. For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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