If you want to know why they say that Colombians are among the most happy people of the world, come in December!
By Albeiro Rodas
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A cradle of Faberpol ltda in Park 93rd, Bogotá.
If you are a “Colombianist” (it is the discipline that study the Colombian culture) and want to get the Colombians naked in what they are, come in December and part of January and you will get many ideas and a lot of fun.
Saying in English or in other foreign language how is a December in Colombia is not easy. It is not easy because it has to see with the deepest part of the Colombian soul. Something like trying to explain what is natilla, buñuelos, villancicos and all those things so familiar to Colombians.
December is the month when these Latin American people lives at its full its traditions and the principles of its culture. Their culture of course has to see with the Spanish language, the Catholic influence in their customs, the way to be human in the tropic, the strong roots of family and an ancestral rural life that survives the urban contexts.
As Latin Americans, Colombians share many traditions with their other Latin American relatives. A December and a Christmas in Colombia have many elements in common with what is a December and Christmas in Mexico, Peru or Argentina. Those elements are rooted in the Catholic traditions of Christmas that means the mangers, Bethlehem or cradle of Baby Jesus, the nine days of traditional prayers to wait Christmas and many other shared with the other Hispanic nations.
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7th December in Bogotá, the night of the candles for the Inmaculate Conception of Mary. Picture by Asdrubal.
However, those elements come to be molded by the Colombian mentality and ways of celebration. Music, popular religiosity, family relations, light and colors are very strong elements for the Colombian Christmas. Even if some foreign elements like Saint Klaus, the Christmas Tree and the reference to snow in a tropical country where snow is only found in its high mountains but never fall in its cities, we can identified some elements as fully belonging to the culture of Colombia.
The role of Saint Klaus of Papa Noël is made by Child Jesus. The Niño Dios, as he is known in Colombia, has been the only one delegated to bring happiness of Christmas gifts to the Colombian children. Saint Klaus has not chimneys in Colombia and it can appear in the commercial centers promoting Christmas, but the one waited by the Colombian children is Baby Jesus. The cradle of the Holy Child is at the center of the hall with creative representations of a local Bethlehem, being this like an Andean town or a sea coast depending on the region. Nine nights before Christmas the children gather around the cradle, pray and sing the traditional carols to receive at the end sweets. The night of December 24 the Child Jesus is hidden and the children have to look for the Child, so the winner get a great gifts. Around 9PM the Catholic families go to the Church for a solemn Mass that lasts until midnight. The cradle in the Church is usually spectacular and the celebration has its chorus of young and children.
Picture AP. The representation of the Old Year.
The midnight dinner of Christmas has the traditional Colombian foods, difficult to describe, actually. It is better to taste. I can not imagine to describe in English a delicious and hot buñuelo, or a tasting natilla, a dream tamal and all of these. Just ask the most near Colombian to you not to explain it, but to cook some for you and then your tongue will not forget it.
Music of course can not be omitted in a December of one of the most rich countries in music manifestations. The most classic December letters have almost more than hundred years and they are rather far to be forgotten. Letters like “I don´t forget the old year because it gave me many good things” (yo no olvido al año viejo, porque me ha dejao cosas muy buenas), “I come to congratulate you with my soul and my body” (te vengo a felicitar con el cuerpo y con el alma), “it is 15 to 12 the year is going to end, I will run to my house to embrace my mother” (faltan cinco pa las doce el año va a terminar, me voy corriendo a mi casa a abrazar a mi mamá.)
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Boys of Medellín during a night of December. Picture by Carlos0717.
The light is the other element. The cities and towns are adorned with thousand of colorful lights that attract foreigners and locals. It is a tradition to contract a big camion (chivas) and go sight seen in the nights.
The gathering of families and friends are a very important factor in a Colombian December. It is the month of the family in a country where family relations still a very important element for the personal joy and security. In Colombia, family is not just the parents and their children. Families can mean a very extensive group with uncles, aunts, grand parents, great grand parents, the thousand cousins and the friends of the relatives. For this reason if you find a Colombian house full of people dancing, eating the delicious traditional foods and laughing, you should know that it is not a public party: that is actually a private Colombian party “only for the family and the most near friends” that can count thousand persons. If you get near and smile, you will become immediately a part of the family. You can get it for sure in a Colombian Christmas.
You should know…
- At the beginning of December the country get some showers, but the month is rather warm accordingly with the altitudes of the regions: for example, in the Eastern Plains (Los Llanos) temperature is about 25ºC (75ºF); Medellin 20ºC (68ºF) and Bogotá 10ºC (50ºF). Weather in the Colombian litorals is rather hot this month with more than 30ºC (85ºF)
- Flights to Colombia for December should be scheduled with enough time.
- Prices in hotels use to be higher.
- Roads use to be busy. If you travel by car from region to region, remind that velocity should not be speeder than 80 kms per hour: you could be fine if you do so!
- The use of firegames in Colombia was popular some years ago, but it was banned in most regions due to accidents involving children. If you want to use firegames, you should ask permission from authorities and guarantee the save conditions. Otherwise, it is illegal.
- Take notice that in Colombia it is used only the national currency (Pesos). Change your money into that before you get into any business in the country.
- If you are alone in Colombia, you want to travel there, you can not speak English and you need some specific advance or informal guide about the country, just send me an email (email@example.com). I am far from my Colombia, but I remember it very well.