It’s mid-December in Bogotá. The dry season. It’s beautiful, sunny, with clear skies almost every morning with a crisp 60 degree weather. Growing up in Pennsylvania, to me Christmas is snow and holly and pretty white lights, Christmas carols, hot chocolate and a blazing fireplace. Christmas in Colombia is almost none of those things. As much as we love to poke fun at what we consider garish Christmas decorations and the psychedelic flashing lights, we also love Bogotá in December.
This will be our second Christmas in Bogotá. I’ve planned ahead and ordered presents with time to spare. I trek to Home Center (Colombia’s “Home Depot”) with Ingrid and pick out the most respectable artificial tree and a few tasteful decorations. We spend a lovely afternoon putting together the tree and setting up decorations around the house. I let her play with our clay manger scene and by January I’ve already glued back on one llama ear, one llama foot, and part of an angel’s wing.
We listen to Christmas songs and carols and read Christmas books. We attempt to participate in Christmas traditions as much as we can with a new baby and toddler in tow.
By far, our favorite thing about Christmas in Colombia is Noche de Las Velitas.
This Colombian celebration takes place on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in Colombia. It is considered the unofficial start of the Christmas season.
Just after dark, families and friends gather in parks and public spaces to light little candles “velitas” and lanterns in honor of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. It’s beautiful to see grandparents teaching their grandchildren how to shield the candles from the wind.
We missed this tradition last year, but despite no naps and grumpy babies we get ourselves together and go to a nearby park and light our candles with many other families. The park near our house is aglow with brilliant colors and filled with hundreds of people laughing, singing, and celebrating together.
At some point, balloons are passed out and in unison, we let them go into the sky laughing, clapping, and cheering.
Although we opt to head home to put the kids to bed, others gather to listen to traditional Colombian music, eat Christmas treats and celebrate into the morning hours.
Although we miss every single Christmas party we are invited to (sorry, newborn baby) including the Embassy party at the Ambassador’s residence, we do enjoy the remainder of the season just ourselves. We spend Christmas Eve at our church’s Lessons & Carols service which is beautiful and comfortingly American to me.
We awake on Christmas Day, unwrap presents with our babies, and go for our traditional Christmas ciclovia walk. This year we walk to Parque Virrey and it’s a gorgeous, warm, sunny day and so many other families are out enjoying the weather with us. We join our upstairs neighbors and another Embassy family for Christmas dinner, complete with ham and cranberry sauce. We miss our family of course and wish we could be with them, but we have a lovely Christmas in Colombia. In any case, we will fly home and see them in just a few days.