During my first stint in Colombia in 2008, as an exchange student at la Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, I did not fully learn to appreciate festivos, nor did I totally understand what they were other than a day off from school. However, now that I have been working in Colombia for a year and a half, festivos have become my favorite day of the week.
No, festivos are not really a day of the week—although, sometimes it feels like it. Literally, festivo means, “holiday.” However, it’s not the same idea of “holiday,” that someone from the United States (like myself) or many other foreigners would have. In general, as a non-Colombian, it takes you a while to wrap your head around the concept of festivos and the frequency with which they occur; and, they occur VERY frequently. In 2013, there will be a total of 17 festivos. That’s seventeen national holidays! That does not include, by the way, all of the “unofficial” or regional festivos, such as the four days of Carnival celebrations in Barranquilla, or the impromptu festivos, like the day after Junior (Barranquilla’s soccer) won the national soccer championship in 2011. Just to put that into perspective, in the United States there will only be 10 public holidays, the majority of which people will celebrate by going to school or working away in the office. Not in Colombia, though. Festivos are taken very seriously. So seriously that no one goes to work and most public works companies, government offices, and schools (including universities) are closed.
All of that being said… I sometimes like to know exactly what I am celebrating with all of these wonderful festivos. When I was given a day off from school in the United States, I definitely knew what national holiday I should be thankful existed. In Colombia, I wanted to do the same. However, I can’t count on my hands the number of times I have gotten a blank stare when I have asked Colombians why a certain day is a festivo and what it celebrates. Most Colombians know and will tell you that festivos have their roots in the Catholic celebration of Saints’ days, but there are some Colombians who don’t quite know themselves what festivos are or how exactly they began and are just simply happy to have an extra day off.
If you’re wondering what people do on festivos, let me give you an idea. First of all, the majority of festivos occur on a Monday—I’ve been told by some Colombians, “to make things easier,” there was a decision made at government level to move all Saint’s day celebrations to a Monday. While there are certain festivos with fixed dates (e.g. Christmas, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day to name a few), they are certainly not the norm. That being said, a festivo normally implies a 3-day weekend (what Colombians call a “puente”) for those of us who don’t have to work on Saturday and Sunday. Three days is more than enough time to escape to another city, have an adventure in the city you live in, or simply recuperate from a stressful week of work. If you do decide to travel on a 3-day festivo weekend, try and plan ahead as thousands of Colombians will have the same idea and, possibly, destination as you do, making flights and hotels more expensive and harder to find at the last minute.
As for myself, I’ve stopped worrying about why I have a 3 day weekend so frequently, and I’ve simply embraced another beautiful benefit of living in Colombia.
Paige M. Poole
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- Carnival in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Beyond Rio: Party and experience multi-cultural Colombian carnivals and festivals (www.uncovercolombia.com)