Midnight of November’s final day sounds likes a warzone in Colombia. It’s quite worrying considering Medellin was such a dangerous place only a few years ago. But the wild explosions are actually in honour of the month of December, when the mood is jubilant and the city is aglow with Christmas lights.
In the weeks leading up to the epic date, I heard premature spurts of polvera – which can be fireworks or simply ‘works’ (the sound without the fire) – as I walked around the city. Many of these explosions are so powerful, they set off car alarms in the neighbourhood and you can feel the heat from across the street.
From my window, I observed the gradual deployment of flashing Christmas lights on balconies, doors and windows for miles around.
But nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming firework display as we entered December or the dramatic increase in spectacular lights the following day. The entire city looked like a Coca Cola Xmas advert. Shopping malls take the tradition particularly seriously by inventing all sorts of reasons for shoppers to visit and stay longer. Gigantic Christmas trees, ice rinks and extravagant decorations distract the customers for hours.
Due to the sheer vastness of the festive decorations throughout the city, I didn’t have to venture far to get some great pictures – though for light displays, the photos never look quite as good as the real thing.
There are all sorts of lights in the southern suburb of Envigado, but the coup de grace is the river decorations by Industriales. I was absolutely astounded by the amount of time (and presumably money) that had gone into creating this illuminated fantasy world. Nothing that I have ever seen can compare. Medellin is known throughout Colombia as the hotspot for Christmas lights and it did not disappoint.
The festivities run for miles along the river, with food stalls selling all manner of local delicacies. Many of the light displays are interactive, with a few Santa Claus characters and an incredible 3D light exhibition. I went with some Colombian friends who informed me about the importance of this tradition – that it dates back to times where a December celebration was needed to cheer up a depleted nation. Now, it is a source of pride and a celebration of the safer environment in the city.
My friends and I strolled along the riverbanks, marvelling at the luminosities, which tell all sorts of stories with religious, village and mainstream Christmas themes. They stories flash and illuminate the river with rainbow hues.
Back in the UK, there are plenty of Christmas lights of course, but to nowhere near the same extent. In Colombia, any excuse is cause for celebration – so why not the month of December. More people are on the streets with aguardiente and Vallenato music and the atmosphere is euphoric for an entire month. It’s like Britain’s Olympic summer, but every year.
I try to explain to Colombians that the British equivalent is the Christmas TV commercials, which try to outdo each other for corniness each time. A snowman buys his wife some gloves or a rabbit puts a bear in serious danger of starving by waking it mid-hibernation for Christmas Day. These adverts seem rather trivial and limp compared to Medellin’s annual extravaganza.
It is worth visiting this city in the winter if only to see the river decorations. Just try not to panic if it sounds like a bomb has gone off in the street – it’s only a firework!
About the author:
Andrew is a freelance journalist who lives in Medellin. He holds an NCTJ qualification and worked as an online reporter for The Sun and several other publications before moving abroad. His passions are travel, football and languages – he speaks French and Spanish. He is constantly astounded at how much Colombia – and Medellin in particular – have to offer.
- Where to go for Christmas in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Traditional Christmas Food in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Christmas in Colombia (www.uncovercolombia.com)