Christmas in Colombia
Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Colombia, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas day. As opposed to some western countries Christmas still retains a disticntly Christian feel with many attending midnight mass on December 24.
It's always struck me that the party atmosphere during Christmas in Colombia feels much more inclusive than it does in some other countries. Whenever I've travelled back to my native Britain in December I've always been struck by the exclusivity of the pre-Christmas celebrations. The emphasis seems to be on parties for specific groups; work dos etc. It's partly due to the warm climate that Colombia enjoys: it's much easier to meet people when they're sitting outside on the street in shorts and a T-shirt firing up a barbeque than shuffling past people with scarves wrapped round their faces. But perhaps more importantly Colombians are simply an outgoing, gregarious people and this is probably never truer than in December.
Here are some highlights to look out for during the festive season:
Los Alumbrados (Christmas illuminations)
Come December 1 every town and city in Colombia will be decked out in colourful lights and decorations.
Before I came to live in Colombia my idea of Chistmas lights in my native Britain was standing in the freezing cold on a wet November evening watching a soppy ex-Big Brother contestant turn on some tatty-looking lights on one of the city's high streets, and wondering why I wasn't in a nice warm pub instead.
Medellin's Christmas lights, however, are a different kettle of pescados altogether. There are well-thought out, attractive displays located all over the city, but by far the most impressive are the lights suspended over the Medellin River.
For hundreds and hundreds of metres people walk along the banks of the river gazing at the simply stunning decorations suspended above the flow of water. A picture says a thousand words, but even a picture can't really sum up the incredible spectacle of these lights and decorations. The photo below at least gives you some idea of the treat awaiting you if you're lucky enough to be in Medellin during the Christmas period.
The lights usually last from the start of December to mid January. The busiest days tend to be at the beginning of December and on December 8 (El Dia de las Velitas - see below).
Noche de Las Velitas (Candle Night)
My favourite part of Christmas in Colombia is without doubt La Noche de Las Velitas (Candle Night).
As the sun sets at around 6pm people emerge from their houses and businesses and head to the parks and plazas to light candles. The scene is wonderful; couples, groups of youngsters, grandparents and grandchildren all lighting row upon row of twinkling candles.
The candle lightling tends to wind down around 10pm as the candles slowly burn out and the children head off to bed.
Typical food is one aspect of Christmas where Colombia falls a little short compared with my homeland of Britain. The typical Christmas nosh consists of bunuelos (fried balls of cornflour and cheese) which, despite being classed as Christmas food, are eaten all year round, and natilla (a kind of gelatine sweet) which is definitely only eaten at Christmas and is reasonably tasty.
An important feature of Christmas in Colombia is the traditional music played throughout the festive season. Christmas music (usually referred to as "musica de diciembre") is classed as musica parrandera, a traditional dancy kind of music. Many of the sonsg' lyrics don't particularly relate to Christmas and I'm not sure how exactly it was decided that this would be Colombia's "Christmas Music", but the songs are upbeat and fit in well with the party spirit.
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