A special Colombian cultural holiday, and its religious roots.

    By Daniela Roldan Cabrera

    Many countries across Latin America have developed holidays and traditions that originate from  a religious perspective, and Colombia is no exception. In fact, Colombia ranks very high in the list of countries with the most public holidays, a lot of them religious, and one of them is just around the corner.

    El día de las velitas, (roughly translated to candle’s day), is one of the most special holidays in the country and it officially marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season. What makes it so different from all the other holidays that have a religious motivation is how it has managed to link so deeply to its culture. Most of the other religious holidays are just seen as an excuse for people to have a day off of work or school; however, El día de las velitas is actually a day people get excited about, a day which they plan in advanced for, a day to spend quality time with their loved ones and actively participate in the costumes of the day. 

    But, what is this day exactly? El día de las velitas is celebrated every night on the 7th; the eve of the Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Originally it commemorates the moment when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was chosen, from before her birth, to be the mother of Jesus. Colombians will light the streets with millions of multi-color candles stuck to wooden boards on sidewalks, balconies, and windowsills. This tradition is still observed, but what’s interesting is that it has shifted to be more of a cultural and familial space, the night that officially marks the start of Christmas time. 

    People prepare for this holiday by buying dozens of packs of candles, choosing a place to gather and celebrate as a family, and cook staple Colombian holiday food and drinks, like buñuelos & natilla. Currently people will celebrate the holiday for different reasons. Yes, Catholics will still observe it as a religious holiday, but it has mostly been ingrained in Colombian society as a traditional and cultural moment for celebration. Bigger organizations will organize candle lightings in public spaces and entire streets will get lightened with small candles. A downside of this is that the next day entire spaces are covered in candle wax and it takes time to remove, but it is a very beloved celebration. 

    Personally, I have always celebrated this holiday at one of my aunts’ houses with my parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. We would all provide 3-4 packs of candles to share and the hosts would be in charge of the food. I looked forward to arriving at that house all day. My mom would make me dress in clothes that she would not mind if they got ruined by candle wax. Every time, my aunt would be cooking something different for her guests. While adults chatted outside and inside the house, all the children would be outside getting wooden boards ready to light the candles on top. Adults would supervise us so we wouldn’t burn ourselves. Later in the night, when there were no more candles, we would dance to traditional and holiday music with neighbors and head inside to eat a meal as a family. The air would be filled with the sense of joy and festivity the holidays always bring. I have a lot of fond memories from these times. It is definitely one of my favorite nights of the year and I continue to celebrate it with friends even though I am abroad, because it is a very important part of my culture, as it is for all Colombians. 

    El día de las velitas is actually a day people get excited about, a day which they plan in advanced for, a day to spend quality time with their loved ones and actively participate in the costumes of the day. 

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