How Colombians celebrate Christmas


A ‘luxury’ version novena, in which a Vallenato band has been brought in to celebrate the hostess’ birthday which happened to be on one of the novena days.

Christmas celebrations in Colombia really start nine days (I know, rather different from the Anglo-saxon 12 days) before Christmas, which explains the name of the rather beautiful tradition novena, when Colombians host house gatherings for family and friends. It’s really a religious event, although it has evolved to be a bit of a party occasion, another excuse for jolly Colombians to come together to have a good chat, eat, drink, laugh, sing and eat some more. It’s quite convenient really because you can’t see everyone, except your closest family, at Christmas, so the 9 days before is a good time to see those you don’t really see during the year.

The key ingredients of a novena are Christmas decorations, prayers, buñuelos and natilla (a pudding made of cinnamon, panela and sometimes coconut). At a novena, there could be anywhere from 10 people upwards, depending on how big your family / place is (When it’s not unusual for a Colombian to have 20 uncles and 70 cousins, you can imagine how big these gatherings could be).

Typically, it starts at about 6pm, when guests start to arrive. You sit around in the living room, pray, sing, and eat a light dinner. At around 7pm the novena prayers book is pass around when individuals take turn to read out loud the story of the journey of Virgin Mary and Joseph days before Jesus was born at midnight on the 24th, while the rest of the group will join in to recite prayers verses and sing Christmas carols in between.

As for Christmas decorations, here in the video you can see an incredible display of it, which is taken very seriously. Lights, ribbons and even ‘snow’ (lots of cotton wool) and European (maybe German?) style Hänsel and Gretel themed Christmas towns and trains (why?!?) are proudly laid out in the last week of November. As previously written, everything at home turns Christmasy: the soap dispenser, cutlery and linen among others..

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