Day of the Little Candles in Colombia
The Day of the Little Candles in Colombia is one of the most fascinating and popular traditions that take place during the Christmas season.
Keep reading to learn about the famous Día de las Velitas, when it’s celebrated, and how it started. Discover similar traditions from different cultures and find out how the Day of the Little Candles is celebrated in different regions of Colombia.
What is Día de las Velitas?
Día de las Velitas (“Day of the Little Candles”) is a Colombian tradition that celebrates the Catholic holiday of the Immaculate Conception. Although this holiday takes place across the Catholic world, in Colombia it takes on an interesting way of expression. Actually, among unique Latin American Christmas’ celebrations, Día de las Velitas is definitely right at the top of the list.
When Do People Celebrate the Day of the Little Candles?
Although it was on December 8, 1854, when Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception dogma, in Colombia the celebration takes place on the night of December 7 every year.
For Colombians, this holiday is full of significance for religious and secular reasons. It unofficially kickstarts Christmas celebrations in the South American country.
What is the Immaculate Conception?
Contrary to what many believe, the Immaculate Conception doesn’t refer to the conception of Jesus, but to that of his mother, Mary. According to this Catholic doctrine, the Virgin Mary “was preserved free from the effects of the sin of Adam from the first instant of her conception.”
That sin of Adam is known as “original sin.” Many Catholic families baptize their newborn children, to clear their souls from that first sin made by Adam a long time ago. However, the original sin concept created a problem for early Church theologians, as the mother of God had to be so pure that it couldn’t have been possible for Mary to have in her the disposition to the evil inherent to humans by the effect of Adam’s sin.
Medieval Theology arguments are especially hard to follow, but this is one particularly difficult. It stretched over centuries and included renowned philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus.
What to Expect from the Day of the Little Candles in Colombia
In Colombia, the Immaculate Conception holiday was promoted by the Franciscans in the 19th century and has since become one of the most popular religious traditions in the country.
At sunset on December 7th, millions of households in Colombia light little candles (and more recently paper lanterns) and place them everywhere. From porches to balconies and churches to squares, the whole country gets illuminated in a fascinating spectacle of light, fire, and religious fervor.
Among the Day of the Little Candles traditions, one of the most popular ones is to make a wish for each candlelit. This way, the Christmas season starts with hope and good wishes all over the country.
Origins of the Day of the Little Candles
Apparently, in anticipation of the Pope’s declaration of the Immaculate Conception dogma, Catholics around the world lit candles in hope that it would finally be declared that Mary, Mother of God, was spared from the original sin.
However, the celebration has similarities with traditions from other cultures and religions.
Jewish Hanukkah is a festival of lights that usually takes place between the end of November and the beginning of December.
In Mexico, the Aztecs and their predecessors the Teotihuacanos, celebrated a New Fire ceremony every 52 years to commemorate the completion of a full cycle in the Aztec calendar. All fires in the land were put out, and the Fire Priest would lit a new fire at the main pyramid or temple. This fire would then become the source for all the other new fires lit in the city and even further away.
Día de las Velitas Celebrations Across Colombia
Although it’s celebrated all across Colombia, the Day of the Little Candles takes on different forms depending on which part of the country you’re in. Let’s learn a bit about the most popular celebrations of this fascinating tradition!
The western city of Quimbaya hosts the Candles and Lanterns Festival, a competition between neighborhoods that put forth their best efforts to create the most spectacular lighting display. In this case, it’s easy to see how a religious tradition has taken a new meaning as a social and cultural celebration.
The Caribbean region located at the north of the country includes important cities such as Barranquilla, Santa Marta, and Cartagena. It differentiates itself from the rest of the country by lighting the candles in the early hours of December 8, not on the previous night like in most of Colombia.
In the capital city of Colombia, a hugely popular event takes place at an outdoor venue such as the Simon Bolivar Park, where attendees enjoy a series of performances, a magic show, and a highly anticipated fireworks display.
In Medellín, the Day of the Little Candles is celebrated across the city on December 7, with spectacular light displays in different parks and public plazas. Then, on December 8, the traditional Desfile de Mitos y Leyendas (Myths and Legends Parade) takes place.
Visit Colombia and Practice Your Spanish
The Day of the Little Candles is just one more of the many fascinating cultural expressions that Colombia has to offer. A country with such a rich history and culture is also recognized as the place where the purest Spanish is spoken in the world. So, why not visit the country with a cultural interest in mind and make the most of your trip by practicing your Christmas Spanish vocabulary?
Learning a second language is a useful tool for traveling. For example, when visiting Colombia, speaking Spanish opens many doors to introduce you to new and interesting people and facilitate your communication with the locals. It’s the ideal way to learn more about traditions like the Day of the Little Candles.
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