Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Colombian Connections: Christmas

This year will be our first Christmas celebrated in a different culture. We have been asking friends and reading about traditions in Colombia, and we share some of these with you as we anticipate the Advent season.

Colombians decorate for Christmas starting in mid-November. We have Christmas trees up in our building, and decorations around the city. However, the Christmas lights are not turned on until “El Dia de las Velitas” or “Day of the Candles.” December 8 commemorates the immaculate conception, and also lights the way for Mary to find Bethlehem. Families set up candles all over the streets. The whole city is illuminated. We are looking forward to spending this night outside, and we will think of the symbolic “Advent Wreath” lit at Bethel College during the “Lighting of the Green.”

When we attended family camp at Camp Friedenswald, we learned how to light fire kites. Here in Colombia there is a similar tradition, where paper globes are lit called “voladores,” and released into the sky.

While there is some religious diversity in Colombia, Catholic traditions are deeply infused into many of the Christmas traditions here. This year, our family is hoping to celebrate the Novena. Beginning on December 16 and for every night until the 24th, we will eat dinner with friends or family. Each night there will be music, special things to eat, small gifts for the children, and a specific Novena prayer. Part of our prayer time will include a portion of the Christmas story from the bible. On Christmas Eve, family and friends stay up until mid-night and later celebrating, lighting fireworks, singing, dancing, and sharing good food and games.

There is s strong spirit of generosity here in Colombia. Families help other families. Children purchase gifts for other children. Food is prepared to share with those who have none.

And while there is a “Papa Noel” the emphasis here on Christ is much stronger. In some households, children write letters requesting gifts form the “Baby Jesus,” and it is he that leaves gifts for them by their beds at night. Often they hide these notes inside a nativity scene somewhere for Baby Jesus to find it.

Christmas Day is much less celebrated. There are still gatherings with friends and families, but mostly we are told it is a day for recovery, rest, and laying low.
The New Year is also celebrated here in Colombia and is called “El Ano Viejo.” They clean and smudge their houses very well to rid negative energy from the past year. They eat 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year. They sometimes wear yellow for good luck. And we have also heard that they make a giant rag doll, stuff it with firecrackers, cry around it for the things past from the former year, and light it up at midnight.

While we are sad to miss traditions at home, we are also looking forward to learning more about Colombian culture and traditions while we are living here. We continue to keep all of you close in our hearts, and wish you a warm and festive Christmas.

This month we have gratitude for: Our biggest Christmas gift, which will be a visit from my parents, Terry and Bobbie Chappell.
This month we ask for prayers/intentions/comfort for: Those who feel pain and sorrow more fiercely during the holiday season, especially those in Colombia who have lost loved ones in the violence.
Something else you can do is...Be generous this Christmas. Give what you have and share it with others, remembering what Christ shared with us.


  1. Sounds like a festive month! I can't to hear more about all the candles.

  2. Oh YES!! THIS is the stuff that you will dig deep into, embrace, internalize, find comfort and familiarity in and someday, when you return, miss deeply. I can picture you doing all of this. And I hope someday we will all give you the time and space to share about these things when you return.

  3. Do you know anywhere I can find an english translation of the Novena?