Updated on 02/20/2024
I would also like to recommend our Colombia travel guide, which provides a perfect overview of the tourist attractions in Colombia. Enjoy reading it!
Colombians are no strangers to the special New Year’s celebration, where they welcome a fresh 365 days with family and friends, accompanied by music, dances, delicious food, and a series of unique customs to start the year with prosperity.
Did you know that in Colombia, they burn rag dolls, eat 12 grapes, and dress in yellow to welcome the New Year? These are just some of the traditions and festivities that are part of Colombian culture. Keep reading, and you’ll seamlessly blend in with Colombians for the New Year.
Traditions and Festivities of Colombians on New Year’s
New Year in Colombia is an occasion to practice customs and rituals that attract good luck, happiness, love, money, and health. It’s a special time when families and communities come together to celebrate and honor these traditions deeply rooted in their history and culture.
Here are some of the most popular practices and traditions Colombians follow for the arrival of the New Year:
Preparations for New Year’s Eve
In the weeks leading up to the New Year’s celebration, Colombian families get to work to ensure everything is ready for the big party.
Cleaning the house is a task taken seriously by all families because, who wants to start the year in a messy place, right? Additionally, the grocery shopping is a true adventure.
- During this time, thousands of people seek the best ham or the largest Christmas turkey in supermarkets or chain stores across the country. This means you’ll see stores and businesses nationwide crowded with people. It’s madness!
- Let’s not forget the typical decoration; the streets during this season begin to fill with lights, colors, and festive ornaments.
- If you didn’t know, some Colombians organize contests to see who has the most illuminated or decorated house or neighborhood.
New Year’s Eve Dinner
The New Year’s Eve dinner is one of the most important traditions for these dates. On this occasion, families gather to welcome the new year together by organizing a grand feast.
In Colombia, it’s customary for this tradition to be celebrated with extended family (cousins’ children of aunts…), which means a reunion for many families and, of course, abundant food.
Popular recipes for New Year’s can be typical dishes. Although the dinner may vary depending on each region, as each one has its own typical dishes. For example:
- In the Andean region: Tamales, ajiaco, sancocho, arepas, lechona, natilla with buñuelos, or turkey stuffed with vegetables and prunes, which is the Colombian version of the American Stuffed Turkey prepared with herbs, spices, and garlic.
- In the Pacific region: It’s common to prepare chicken sancocho, and manjar blanco is a must on the table.
- In the Llanos region: Grilled meat, pork, or precooked ham and potato salads with fruits like pineapple, plum, apple, and raisins are seen.
- In the Caribbean region: Fried fish with coconut rice and patacones is quite typical, as well as filled pastries, which are tamales wrapped in bijao leaves filled with rice dough, vegetables, and proteins like chicken, pork, or meat.
- In the Amazon region: Without bocachico broth, there is no New Year celebration, a soup prepared with fish, yuca, and plantain. During this time, freshwater fish typical of the area, such as pirarucu or patarasca, are used, prepared with peas and wrapped in bijao leaves.
- In the insular region: In San Andrés and Providencia, Rondón is common, a stew of plantain, yuca, ñame, coconut, and a dessert called sweet potato pie. Pork is also included as an alternative to seafood.
There’s also a popular tradition where the meals prepared on Christmas Eve are often reheated and used the next day, even during the rest of the week. The leftovers are the Colombian way of not wasting a single bit of food.
Lentils in Pockets
Lentils, culturally significant during this time, aim to attract abundance and prosperity in the New Year, dating back to ancient Rome for positive vibes.
Did you think lentils were only meant to be eaten? Not really! It turns out they can be used in different ways, depending on family or regional traditions.
Some keep them in pockets, wallets, or strategic places, while others use them as table decorations or share them as food among family and loved ones.
In addition to lentils, other common grains used include beans and chickpeas. Some people also carry rice or corn in their pockets. Essentially, these grains symbolize abundance and fertility, ensuring that there is never a shortage of food at home.
The idea is to carry these grains at the exact moment when the New Year is being celebrated. It’s common to see Colombian families sharing the 12 lucky grapes along with the grains in their pockets during the countdown.
Eating 12 Grapes with Midnight Chimes
Eating twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve is a popular ritual. Each grape, consumed with each clock stroke, is accompanied by making a wish for good luck and prosperity.
People often make creative wishes, such as traveling the world or winning the lottery.
Originating in Spain in 1895, this tradition spread to Colombia, deeply ingrained in its culture, even though the initial motive was related to vine growers in Alicante using it to sell grapes from the best harvest at a higher price.
This superstition is also one of the most practiced, as the color of the underwear worn determines different kinds of luck.
- Red: Attracts love, passion, and strength.
- Blue: Tranquility and harmony.
- Yellow: Money, abundance, and prosperity.
- White: Peace, hope, and health.
- Black: Luxury, power, and independence.
- Orange: Enthusiasm and vitality.
- Green: Calm, protection, and youth.
- Purple: Spirituality and meditation.
The meaning of the colors is marked by the culture to which it belongs.
In Colombia, the most commonly used color is yellow, and it’s common to see these garments promoted in stores and even on radio or television.
For example, many people buy yellow clothing on December 31st and wear it only at midnight to attract wealth and luck. On January 1st, they go back to wearing regular clothes.
Putting Potatoes Under the Bed
Yes! It turns out that before going to sleep on December 31st, three potatoes are placed under the bed:
- One peeled potato
- One partially peeled potato
- One unpeeled potato
When people wake up on January 1st, they randomly choose one of the potatoes they placed the night before. The chosen potato’s interpretation determines the financial situation for the new year.
If you take a peeled potato, it could mean a prosperous year; a partially peeled potato indicates a year with economic ups and downs, and an unpeeled potato suggests a year with financial difficulties.
Neighborhood Tour with Suitcases
In this tradition, Colombians grab a travel suitcase, run through their neighborhood streets, and pack items as if embarking on a journey. The purpose is to symbolize travel and adventures in the upcoming year. To make the ritual work, diligently follow steps and pack essential items like:
- Swimsuits, towels, and sunscreen for a beach trip.
- Warm clothes and thermal gloves for a cold destination.
Choose a departure location, visualize your dream journey at midnight, step outside, and the farther you run, the better your adventure will be.
Wheat spikes serve as Christmas decorations but are also highly symbolic on New Year’s. I’ll explain it in three parts:
- Just like other ritual objects for New Year’s, wheat spikes are used to attract prosperity to the home. They also symbolize good omens for fertility, friendship, and abundance in food. It’s common for people to mix them with the tradition of grains like lentils and rice.
- The tradition dates back 3,000 years when people used to exchange gifts among friends and relatives around December 21, coinciding with the dates of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.
- This tradition was adopted by the church during the Spanish conquest but eventually shifted to December 31.
Burning of Old Year Rag Dolls
A popular December tradition involves burning rag or cardboard dolls filled with gunpowder, known as “old year” dolls. Originating from ancient Rome and later spreading to Spain, the practice in Latin America dates back to 1895 in Ecuador during an epidemic. Here are the three steps:
- Dress and decorate the dolls as if they were human, then burn them at midnight, symbolizing a cleansing for a fresh start in the new year.
- People write wishes and things to leave behind on paper, placing them inside the doll.
- At midnight, as the bells toll, the old year doll is burned in a bonfire, releasing negative energy and welcoming the new year with positive vibes—an enjoyable tradition.
What you didn’t know
- The dolls have humorous characteristics, often dressed in a funny manner, representing public figures or high-ranking politicians who are widely disliked.
- It has also become a tourist attraction in some areas of Colombia, where visitors can join the celebration and experience this custom. For example, in the city of Pasto, there is the Old Years Parade.
Putting Money in the Wallet
Another tradition to attract wealth is to have money inside the wallet. According to popular belief, this practice brings prosperity and fortune.
o carry out this ritual, Colombians must have cash in their wallets on December 31. The amount doesn’t really matter; the idea is to have it and start the year with money inside the wallet.
Some even recommend organizing the bills in high denominations to attract even more wealth.
Getting Under the Table
This tradition has nothing to do with simulating an earthquake, and it has grown over the years thanks to the use of social media where young people publicly tweeted about their attempts at the ritual.
Both men and women hide under the dining table to attract love, with the idea that the special person who will be their other half will appear.
The ritual is performed just as the first chimes of January 1 begin, right after the countdown of the last seconds of December, and it is even part of the rituals combined with the 12 grapes.
Fireworks are a common sight during celebrations among Colombians, and New Year’s is no exception. The use of pyrotechnics is popular because it provides a visual spectacle for many people.
In the lineup of New Year’s traditions, fireworks are associated with the invention of gunpowder in ancient China. They were used to joyfully welcome a new lunar cycle and to ward off evil spirits.
It’s important to note that the use of gunpowder is strictly regulated, as its handling, sale, and commercialization are prohibited in most places in the country. Despite strict regulations, many people still use fireworks during the year-end festivities, leading to accidents such as injuries or burns.
Despite the government’s and authorities’ efforts to control the use of gunpowder, these elements are still illegally traded, disregarding the associated risks.
If you ever decide to come to Colombia and celebrate New Year’s in a place where fireworks are allowed, it’s advisable to be accompanied by an expert in the field.
Music and Dance
Music and dance form the essence of New Year’s celebrations in Colombia. In December, salsa, merengue, and cumbia resonate throughout the country, showcasing Colombians’ dance prowess.
Notably, specific music and singers dominate year-end playlists, such as Pastor López and Rodolfo Aicardi, known for cumbias and porros. This musical excitement starts in September, building anticipation for the upcoming festivities.
Colombians further celebrate with street gatherings, live concerts featuring salsa orchestras, and intensified music on December 24th and 31st. Even at 5:00 a.m. on the following day, the festivities continue, with the Cali Fair being a prime example.
The vibrant atmosphere attracts many foreigners during the Christmas season.
New Year and Wishes
Finally, the New Year arrives, probably the most special moment to share with friends, family, or acquaintances.
When the countdown ends to welcome the new year, people often embrace each other and wish each other the best. It’s a moment filled with affection, as it is a tradition to offer good wishes to loved ones for their future.
Remember that Colombian culture, like Latin culture, involves a lot of closeness and physical contact, so expect to receive many hugs.
More about Culture and Events in Colombia
- Colombia’s 45 Best & Biggest Festivals in Detail
- Complete Colombian Slang Guide: Essential Words for Your Trip to Colombia
- The 7 Most Terrifying Legends of Colombia
- How Holy Week is Celebrated in Colombia: Unmissable Traditions and Places
- 31 Colombian Dishes and Food From All Regions You Should Try
More about Colombian culture.
- Everything You Should Know about Andean Culture.
- Everything You Should Know about Amazonian Culture.
- Everything You Should Know about Caribbean Culture.
- Everything You Should Know about Island Culture.
- Everything you should know about the Pacific Culture in Colombia.
- Everything you should know about the Orinoquia Culture in Colombia.