New Year’s Eve in Colombia

New year's eve in Colombia.  12 grapes at midnight brings a prosperous coming year.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Colombia is a very special type of party. How do Colombianos celebrate the New Year?  Just like they celebrate everything else…with a party but this one is filled with traditions, “agüeros” and best wishes for the New year.

Different clubs, restaurants, and street parties in various cities like Cali, Medellin, and Bogota all vie for the title of Best New Years Bash, but to really experience New Year’s Eve in Colombia like a local, you want to get invited to a friend’s house.

Going to a friend’s house guarantees you can enjoy all the quirky traditions that make New Years Eve in Colombia special. Just make sure you get a lot of sleep the night before so you can eat, drink, and dance until sunrise on new year’s day.

Whether you find yourself in a big city or a tiny town, everyone around you will be up blaring music and setting off fireworks all night long so you might as well stay up with them and enjoy the festivities.

Top Colombian New Year’s Eve Traditions

Think about it, we are almost finished the typical Christmas in Colombia, now we are ready for one of the biggest parties, that is new year’s eve.  For the best chance of a happy and prosperous new year, you must fit in as many of these top Colombian New Years traditions as you can:

  1. Clean the House. If you host a party in your home on New Years Eve, make sure you don’t clean too well before the party starts. You need to have a little bit of dirt left so you can sweep it out the door at the stroke of midnight.
  2. Wear Yellow Underpants. If you want to strike it rich next year, make sure you have your yellow undies on. Some say you can get even more luck by wearing them backwards. This is so traditional that I remember big stores like  “La Feria del Brasier y Solo Cucos’ offering yellow underpants specifically for this occasion, and believe me, they sold out every year.
  3. Eat Lentils. Lentils represent good luck in the New Year, especially with money. For best results eat lentils and rice, but in a pinch you might get away with just carrying a few dry lentils in your pocket.
  4. Carry Cash. No New Year’s Eve in Colombia is complete without having cash in your hand or in your pocket at midnight because this will promote financial security in the coming year.
  5. Eat Grapes. On the stroke of midnight, eat 12 grapes as fast as you can. You’ll need to make a wish for every grape, but you only get one minute to finish the whole tradition. My advice? Think about your wishes in advance so you can get those grapes down fast, try to get small grapes instead of big ones.

    New year's eve in Colombia.  12 grapes at midnight brings a prosperous coming year.

    New Year’s Eve in Colombia. 12 grapes at midnight brings a prosperous coming year.

  6. Run with a Suitcase. This is my favorite tradition. If you don’t like grapes or if traveling constitutes your only wish, do this instead: As the clock nears midnight, stand poised at the door with your suitcase. Then, as soon as the new year begins, dash out the door with your suitcase and run once around the block. This will practically guarantee you exciting travels in the new year. Make sure you take your first step with your right foot for happy travels.
  7. Say Goodbye to the Año Viejo. One final must-do for New Year’s eve in Colombia involves a destroying a dummy that represents the Año Viejo or past year. Most families make their own life-size dummy just after Christmas and then display it until New Years Eve.

Shortly after midnight, everyone gathers around the dummy and thinks of one thing they want to let go of about the past year. Then, they set fire to the dummy or blow it up with firecrackers.

The name of this dummy is Canuto or “El Año Viejo” and many families make a big procession to burry this old man.

Best Food for New Year’s Eve in Colombia

Of course, you will need fuel for all the celebrating you will do during Año Nuevo in Colombia. Typically, families serve many of the same special Latin Christmas foods in South America, like tamales or lechón although we call it cerdo, and along side we also serve typical Colombian foods including buñuelos, natilla Colombiana, and brevas caladas.

To wash everything down, you’ll have your choice of beer, aguardiente, champagne, or whatever alcohol you like. Again, you’ll get the best food if you find a real Colombian to host you on New Years Eve.

No matter what you do, or which Colombian new year’s tradition you celebrate just make sure to enjoy the delectable foods and open your mind to many strange customs if you are a foreigner visiting Colombia this time of the year.

Peruvian Christmas Traditions

Nativity with a touch of Andean culture

While an American influence has crept into Peruvian Christmas traditions more and more, the people of Peru still retain their own take on this important religious holiday. Depending on what region of the country you happen to find yourself in, you may experience very different traditions weaving both Christian and indigenous customs in a way that feels uniquely Peruvian.

Preparing for Christmas in Peru

Just about every culture decorates for Christmas, including Peru. While you may find Santas and Christmas trees in some households, no Peruvian family would ever neglect to set up their retablo or nativity scene.

In Cusco, families often buy the wood, pottery, or stone figurines for the retablo at the Santurantikuy market, a huge Christmas Eve crafts market that became one of the most famous Peruvian Christmas traditions.

Peruvian Christmas Traditions: A Retablo

Peruvian Christmas Traditions: A Retablo

One of the most beloved Peruvian Christmas traditions are the the special nativity scenes.  These scenes have an Andean twist with the inclusion of llamas and alpacas in place of the usual donkeys and sheep. In addition to the tabletop retablo, many families also set up other religious-themed decorations including large wall hangings and carved gourds or “burilados.”

Charitable activities also play a role in the Christmas season in Peru, as they do in many other cultures. In Peru, churches and other organizations put on events called “chocolotadas” throughout the days leading up to Christmas. People line up for blocks to enjoy a free piece of panetón, a sweet bread studded with raisins and candied fruit, and a cup of hot chocolate spiced with cloves and cinnamon.

Peruvian Christmas Traditions

Nativity with a touch of Andean culture

Nativity with a touch of Andean culture

When it comes to celebrating Christmas in Peru, the main activities all take place on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena. Most business close around noon on this day to help give people time to travel to their family home for the following 3 big events:

Misa de Gallo or Rooster Mass

As the first official part of the Christmas celebrations, families head to church for a special mass around 10 pm. The late hour of this mass represents the Bible story of the shepherds seeing the Star of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth.

Cena de Navidad or Christmas Dinner

After mass, families return home to a delicious midnight feast. The meal usually features a roast turkey or a roast pig with tamales and applesauce, followed by panetón and hot chocolate.

In some homes, children open their presents before dinner, while other families exchange gifts afterwards. For families who don’t believe in Santa Claus, the children’s gifts won’t appear until the magi bring them on Three Kings Day on January 6th.

Tonos or House Parties

After dinner, the kids go to bed but the adults’ Christmas celebration continues with a “tono” or house party. Plenty of dancing, drinking, and fireworks will take place, and often the party doesn’t wind down until 5 or 6 am.

Fortunately, the government considers Christmas Day among the official national Peruvian holidays so no one has to go to work the day after the big Christmas party. Instead, Peruvians spend Christmas Day at home, recuperating from the partying of the night before in a relaxed family atmosphere.

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