What Is and How We Celebrate
One of the Best Holidays in Colombia
I am getting excited because very soon, to be exact on December 7 many “Colombianos” will be celebrating one of the best holidays in Colombia: The Little Candles Day or Día de las Velitas.
This holiday is based on religion and this day we honor the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. On December 7 we do our fair share of praying however, we all mix it with lots of partying and enjoying in family while our little ones light many candles to honor “La Virgen de La Inmaculada Concepción.”
Growing up in Colombia I remember that close to December first my father would come home with bags of multicolored candles and at least three long flat pieces of wood. These long “tablones” would serve as a base to stand the candles lit outside by the entrance of our home.
To celebrate we light the candles and lanterns in balconies, entrances, sidewalks, terraces and patios. We allow our children to do it even if they are small. When I was 4 I was lighting the candles by using one to light the others that were already preset on long wooden boards.
This lighting of the candles was a ritual that we repeated year after year. The holiday starts when we light the candles after dusk while enjoying music and traditional foods like “picadas,” which are a mix of small meat pieces from pork, beef and chicken. Empanadas and buñuelos are a must and we enjoy them with drinks and alcoholic beverages like beer or aguardiente for adults.
The importance of this holiday has a lot to do with the fact that this day marks the start of the Christmas celebrations in Colombia, even though thousands of Christmas lights start appearing on December first.
As part of the tradition we attend mass on December 8th which is the Immaculate’s special day. It all started when Pope Pius IX in 1854 defined as dogma the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Dogma in Catholic religion is part of doctrine, a belief held and taught by church, which has been revealed directly by God. In this case, the Church defined and declared the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary to be believed as revealed directly by God. This dogma means that the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus without sin whatsoever, in pure and virginal state.
Many countries around the world awaited this announcement by lighting candles, and the Catholic church in Colombia has made great efforts in maintaining this candle lighting tradition alive. Throughout Colombia cities and small towns have huge displays of candle lighting in plazas, shopping malls or gathering town courts.
Even thought we celebrate The Little Candles Day throughout Colombia, celebrations vary according to the regions. One of the most incredible shows happen in the state of Quindio in the small town of Quimbaya where a neighborhood candle lighting competition takes place, this event is La Fiesta Nacional del Concurso de Alumbrados con Velas y Faroles or the Candles and Lanterns Festival. Displays include huge paper lanterns with religious and animal figures.
The town of Medellin in Antioquia has massive candle lighting events and the special Myths and Legends Parade at La Playa Avenue in downtown.
In the Atlantic region the celebration varies a bit, in main cities like Barranquilla participants rise early to light lanterns at dawn in front of their homes and sidewalks. In the Pacific region many light lanterns and candles in canoes and boats and await the morning while singing and feasting.
As many of you know, I am Colombian and a couple of years ago I wanted to show my husband and son what this holiday is about. I made sure to take our son to Colombia pretty young when he was about 3 1/2 years old.
We were staying with my sister and in her condo complex there was a special party honoring the Immaculate Conception or better said: El Día de las Velitas celebration. My husband the gringo, was elated to see so much food and “musica caliente” playing while all the kids in the complex were lighting candles along the pools all under the supervision of the parents. Dance, food and high spirits were all going for many hours of enjoyment and a great opportunity to share with neighbors.
If by any chance you have an opportunity to travel to Colombia and be there for the Little Candles Day you will not regret it. It is a multicolor spectacle all created and lit by candles.