‘El Día De Las Velitas,’ a Beautiful Celebration of Christmas in Colombia

BY: 
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | December 7, 2022

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

Candles. People light them for different reasons. To give ambiance to a room, celebrate a loved one who has passed, or just enjoy the scent of the aromatic ones. 

For Colombians, December 7th is the Día de Velitas or Day of the Little Candles. It is a day to celebrate the holidays with family and loved ones. From Bogota to Barranquilla to Medellin — the beginning of Christmas is marked in a unique way.

A long-standing tradition 

As with many celebrations in Latin America, the origin of the Día de las Velitas is from the Catholic tradition. December 7th is the vigil of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, celebrated on December 8th.

The idea of the Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic dogma that asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved free from original sin since the first instant of her conception.

According to Christian doctrine, original sin holds that humans, through birth, inherit a tainted nature in need of regeneration and a proclivity to sinful conduct. 

Mary, so close to God, could be tainted by original sin, according to the teachings of many theologians. Somewhat dark, no? 

But not so on the evening of Dec. 7th, when families and friends gather to light candles in their homes, parks, shopping centers, and offices. 

A unique way to start the Christmas season

Multicolored candles, white votives, thick pillar candles, paper lanterns, and light displays are all lit inside and outside buildings. For everyone lit, a wish is made. 

In Medellín, people place candles in the streets, and unique designs reveal themselves as the candles burn out. In Barranquilla, the candles are placed in the windows or farolitos (lanterns) so the wind doesn’t put out the flames. 

It is also the day that the Christmas lights are turned on throughout Colombia, and some displays are magical. Landmarks, homes, and even tombs are illuminated.

The lighting of the velitas goes along with holiday wishes passed between  Colombian families and oneself. It’s a quiet moment to reflect and be thankful for what we have and wish for in the Christmas season. 

The velitas are lit, good wishes are gifted all around, and then families sit to eat and drink. The table is laden with Christmas delicacies such as buñuelos, natilla, and tamales, and these are washed down with a canelazo — a spiced cinnamon rum drink

Those present also plan all the meetings that will be held throughout Christmas and the rest of the month around the novenas. A novena is an ancient devotion that consists of nine days of prayer.

It’s a wonderful way to usher in a holiday full of happiness and good cheer. Yet, even if you happen to be an Uncle Scrooge and Bah-Humbug, the Christmas spirit, and the sight of so many velitas will bring a smile to your face. And remember — make a wish for every velita lit. 

¡Feliz Navidad y a encender velitas! 

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Featured image is from the image Hoja Suelta, by José Guadalupe Posada, 1901.
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