December 8th is the Catholic celebration of the Immaculate Conception and is a national holiday in Colombia. On the eve before this holiday, Colombians celebrate La Noche de las Velitas. The Night of the Candles is one of the most traditional festivals in Colombia and marks the beginning of Christmas cheer in the country.
As is tradition every 7th December, millions of candles are lit in towns and cities up and down the country where people leave the comfort of their homes to celebrate and socialise with neighbours and meet with family and friends in the streets. People celebrate by placing candles and paper lanterns on their balconies, in the streets, parks and squares. People bring Christmas snacks to share like buñuelos and natilla, adults sip warm wine fortified with aguardiente and children are given sweets. With every candle that is lit, a wish can be made and it is said that the faster the candle burns the quicker your Christmas wish will come true.
The Night of the Candles, beyond being a chance to get together with family and share an evening with friends from the neighborhood, is a celebration of deep Catholic roots where people gather to commemorate the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
This dogma refers to the belief that Mary, like her son Jesus was conceived by the grace of God. Therefore, the Catholic faithful, in addition to lighting candles, recite Hail Marys and Novena prayers in honour of the Virgin Mary.
While the religious significance of this holiday may have lost some of it’s meaning to a new generation of Colombians it is still a chance for people to get together and socialise. More recently, the Night of the Candles is seen as a time to reflect on Colombia’s armed conflict and for families to unite for peace.
The Night of the Candles has a particularly strong tradition in the cities of the Colombian Atlantic coast and in recent years has spread to the rest of the country.
As part of this celebration, the Mayor of Bogota scheduled around 30 free cultural activities in the capital city, including the “Ceremony of Light,” which includes the lighting of the Christmas tree at the Simon Bolivar square, a presentation of Christmas carols by a children’s choir and a spectacular 20-minute fireworks display to accompany the lighting of the 48-storey Colpatria Tower with 12,120 linear feet of LED lights.
Colombian fiestas go on well after the last candles have burnt out and into the early hours of the morning. If you are in Colombia for this day you’ll find it a great time to meet people, talk to locals and understand the true warmth of the Colombian people.
The Uncover Colombia Team