Colombian Christmas and New Year’s Traditions

by Erica Dinho on December 6, 2012

Natilla Colombiana de Coco

Today I want to share some of the Christmas and New Year’s traditions that I grew up with in Colombia. Like many people who left Colombia and have been in another country for a long time, I’ve lost touch with many of these wonderful traditions. Colombia is mostly a Catholic country, so most of the December celebrations are based around this religion.

El Día de las Velitas (The Day of the Candles): December 7th is when people light candles in front of their houses or on their balconies,  in honor of the Virgin Mary  and the Christmas lights are turned on for the first time.

Alumbrados Navideños (Christmas Lights): Every December, Colombian cities and towns are filled with wonderful decorations with lights. I was lucky to grew up in Medellín, where during the Christmas season, plazas, parks, rivers and streets, shine with the most colorful, beautiful and creative art, made with lights. I took rides with my friends or family to see these lights on a chiva, what literally translates goat, yet is a colorful and rustic open bus. There were drinks, loud music and we would sing our favorite songs throughout the ride around the city, while looking at the Alumbrados (Christmas lights).

Colombian Christmas and New Year's Traditions

Colombian Christmas and New Year's Traditions

(These beautiful pictures of Alumbrados in Medellín were taken by Camilo, a very good friend from Colombia. Thank you,Camilo!)

El árbol de Navidad (The Christmas Tree): This tree is usually located beside the nativity. We place gifts under the tree for family and friends which we give on December 16, when the Novena de Aguinaldos starts. Aguinaldo means Christmas gift in Spanish.

Las Novenas (Christmas Prayers): Novenas are daily prayers beginning nine days before Christmas, to prepare before the arrival of El Niño Jesus (the baby Jesus). We go from one relative’s home to another every night and gather around the pesebre (nativity) and have Christmas appetizers, pray and sing villancicos (Christmas carols), which we sing along with rattles we make of bottle caps passed through a wire. This was one of my favorite traditions.

Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Dinner): These festivities start late in the evening with family members gathering around a table filled with all our traditional Colombian Christmas foods. Our parties are full of joy, drinks, music and dancing. Children wait for el niño Jesus in Colombia to bring the gifts. While we knew about Santa Clause, he didn’t come to Colombia :-)

Traditiones para Fin de Año (New Year’s Traditions): Some of the traditions for celebrating the New Year in Colombia may sound kind of crazy to people from other cultures, but many Colombians will be performing some of these traditions on December 31. Here is a list of a few such traditions and their translations, bearing in mind that I am in no way suggesting that you perform any of them! ;-)

Las Uvas (The Grapes): Eat 12 grapes at midnight, each grape representing a month in the New Year, and make a wish every time a grape is eaten.

Champaña (Champagne): Champagne is poured all over the body at midnight for prosperity.

La Maleta (The Suitcase): Run around the block with an empty suitcase at midnight on December 31, and the New Year will be filled with travel.

Los Calzones Amarillos (The Yellow Underwear): Wear yellow underwear to have prosperity in the New Year.

Here are some traditional Christmas Colombian dishes:

Natilla Colombiana (Colombia-Style Pudding)

Colombian Natilla

Buñuelos (Colombian Buñuelos)

Buñuelos Colombianos

Hojaldras or Hojuelas


Brevas Caladas (Colombian-Style Figs with Syrup)


My mom’s Colombian Tamales

Colombian Tamales

Lechona Tolimense (Colombian-Style Stuffed Pork)

Lechona Colombiana

Cañon de cerdo (Colombian-Style Pork Loin Roast)

Cañon de Cerdo Antioquia

Pernil de Cerdo (Colombian Style Roasted Pork Leg)


Sabajón (Colombian-Style Eggnog)


Pavo Asado Navideño (Christmas Turkey)


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris December 6, 2012 at 10:55 AM

It is interesting seeing the various similarities and difference between cultures. Yellow undies for New Years, that’s a new one for me, ha ha.


2 Angie@Angie's Recipes December 6, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Everything is so delicious! I love the fig the most!


3 rebecca December 6, 2012 at 5:50 PM

love this thanks for sharing and I love the suitcase tradition how cool


4 StephenC December 7, 2012 at 10:52 AM

So nice to have a comment from you this morning. I’ll watch your blog in return and hope for some revelations regarding S. American dishes.


5 Jenn and Seth December 8, 2012 at 12:39 AM

loved this post! all those dishes look sooooo delicious!


6 Ali December 8, 2012 at 3:40 AM

Hello, first of all I absolutely love your site! I moved to Louisiana from Cali in 1994 when I was a little girl and seeing your recipes definitely helps to bring me back to my Colombian roots. I wanted to comment though because being from Colombia and also a strong Catholic, I just wanted to clarify that we don’t worship Mary as you mentioned in your description of the Velitas tradition (a tradition which I love and miss!). Catholics venerate Our Lady and honor her as the mother of Jesus, asking her to pray for us and lead us closer to Him, however, we worship God alone and nothing/no one else. I don’t mean to come off negative at all, I just wanted to clarify for whoever reads as this is a common misconception of Catholics. Thanks for sharing this post and merry Christmas to you and your family!


7 Joanne December 8, 2012 at 7:38 AM

What delicious food traditions you guys have!


8 Lina December 8, 2012 at 8:03 AM

Hi, i love your site. It brings so many beautiful memories from Colombia. This is very nice and I remember every one of those wonderful traditions.I miss my country and you bring every memory back. Thanks!


9 Anonymous December 8, 2012 at 9:27 AM

My favorite part about the holidays is the traditions that I grew up with in Colombia. I love introducing my friends to these wonderful Colombian traditions


10 Parsley Sage December 8, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Oooh! Christmas in Colombia sounds so magical! And it looks very delicious ;)


11 grace December 8, 2012 at 3:56 PM

thanks for sharing these little tidbits about your traditions–i find it so fascinating!


12 Shelly December 8, 2012 at 6:34 PM

I am here in Bogota, and the Christmas lights are truly amazing! I’ve been here for four months and I am looking forward to learning how to cook Colombian style. Your website is filled with wonderful ideas, and I can’t wait to try them out!

Feliz Navidad!


13 Anonymous December 8, 2012 at 8:22 PM

La Maleta (The Suitcase): Run around the block with an empty suitcase at midnight on December 31, and the New Year will be filled with travel.

I just love this one. Can you just picture people runing around…Lovely post and wishing you wonderful things for 2012. Feliz Navidad!


14 Norma-Platanos, Mangoes and Me! December 8, 2012 at 8:23 PM

La Maleta (The Suitcase): Run around the block with an empty suitcase at midnight on December 31, and the New Year will be filled with travel.

Can you just see everyone runing aroung with their maletas.

Deseandote muchas cosas lindas para el 2013!


15 Claudia December 9, 2012 at 10:42 PM

Thanks for the wonderful recipes. I spent one magical Christmas in Colombia when I was a child and remember it well. So much fun!! My mom has passed away and it’s so nice to be able to make her wonderful dishes for my family, thanks to your recipes!


16 Pam December 10, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Sigo tu blog cada dia! y me ENCANTAN tus recetas… pero te cuento que de todos los posts tuyos… ESTE ES MI FAVORITO! I am so sharing this on FB!


17 Lori December 12, 2012 at 1:18 PM

I enjoyed reading about your traditions so much! I love learning how holidays are celebrated around the world. I’m going to have my grapes ready for New Years and that year filled with travel definitely has my attention!


18 Luz Adriana December 30, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Erika tienes la receta de arroz con atun? No la encuentro!! Ayer recibi de Colombia 6 latas de atun en aceite de oliva!! Yo aqui no compro atun pues parece comida para gatos. Gracias de antemano.


19 Erica December 30, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Le voy a preguntar a mi mamá por la receta y te la pongo aqui.


20 Olga December 1, 2013 at 10:45 AM

I remember waiting at midnight for El Niño Dios to bring me my present!!!! Since I am from Bogota sometimes we had Ajiaco for dinner.


21 Velva December 8, 2013 at 8:21 PM

I know that you miss extended family and friends in Colombia. Glad you shared a few of your traditions with us. These are wonderful traditions and great food dishes to share during the Christmas holidays.


22 María M December 20, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Hey Erika, I am so happy to find your blog…you made me tears down when I read about Chiva! the music and the trips watching the lights… I have done it in Pereira, my city. Thanks so much to share your knowledge with us… it ll be my first Christmas far away from my lovely Colombia. Even my husband is so sweet and he is trying to make me feel happy, our traditions and essence is very difficult to replace. any way I ll try to make my Natilla and Buñuelos. :) thanks and Merry Christmas for everybody who is enjoying of your blog!


23 bob job April 1, 2014 at 2:44 PM

what about the festival of the flowers


24 Erica Dinho April 1, 2014 at 6:54 PM

Es en Agosto!


25 Bill November 9, 2014 at 3:42 PM

I was uprooted from Colombia when I was fifteen, never to go back. This is the first time I see how much I have lost. Thanks for the memories!


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