11 Christmas Customs in Colombia That Every Colombian Misses Abroad

Last updated on May 7th, 2024 at 04:21 pm

Christmas in Columbia

Colombia’s vibrant culture is considered one of the most traditional in Latin America.

At Remitly, we know that Colombians who have immigrated to other countries, such as the United States, Europe, or other places in South America, often miss these traditions, especially at Christmas. That’s why we created this list of traditions that will be familiar to everyone from Colombia, regardless of where they find themselves today. We hope it will help those who can’t be in Colombia for Christmas feel more at home.

Not just for expats, this guide also introduces those who have never experienced Christmas in Colombia to holiday season traditions. This way, you know what to expect if you’re visiting Colombia during the holidays or simply want to learn about the different ways of celebrating Christmas around the world.

Read on to learn more about the typical Colombian Christmas.

How popular is Christmas in Colombia?

Christmas is a significant time for Colombians, who relish the holiday season. Roughly 92% of the population of the South American nation identifies as Christian, making the Christmas season one of the most important holidays of the year. As a result, you’ll find Christmas trees, lights, fireworks, and festivities at Christmas, from Bogota to the Caribbean coast and all the way into mountain villages.

Even those who aren’t Christian often celebrate the holiday season in a secular way. They may hang Christmas lights or even give gifts to loved ones in honor of Christmas.

Colombians like Christmas so much that it’s very common to see lights, Christmas trees, and nativity scenes as early as October. When December arrives, the entire country is illuminated as the Christmas season reaches its pinnacle.

You May Also Like: 10 Lunar New Year Traditions 

11 Colombian Christmas Traditions

From lighting candles to erecting nativity scenes, this is how Colombians celebrate the season.

The Alboradas

To kick off December and build excitement for the upcoming holidays, the city of Medellin hosts a special event — the Alboradas. On December 1, the city blows up a full ton of fireworks, and locals set off firecrackers. This tradition has spread to other parts of the country, with some other towns and villages hosting fireworks displays to get everyone ready to celebrate Christmas.

Little Candles’ Day

Día de las Velitas, or Day of the Little Candles, marks the beginning of Christmas in Colombia. The celebration falls on December 7th (the eve of the Immaculate Conception). Residents line the streets with thousands of tiny candles in homemade lanterns to light a path for Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she visits people’s homes.

The display of candles and coverings for the Day of the Little Candles varies depending on the region of Colombia.

In the country’s capital, Bogota, people light candles and place them on windowsills and balconies. They also use them as decorations for parks and roads. Several streets in Bogota are closed so locals can enjoy the city’s Día de las Velitas decorations.

On December 8th, families on the Caribbean coast typically light candles early, and residents in Cali stroll along the Cali River, which is always lit up for the occasion.


Juegos de aguinaldos are games played during the nights of the Novenas, which occur on the nine nights leading up to Christmas. They’re fun little challenges that often result in a small prize.

The games include: “three feet or tres pies,” in which players try to place one foot between their opponents’ feet without them noticing. “Straw in the mouth” demands that you hold a straw in your mouth all day, and “stolen kiss” is just what it sounds like.

Colombian families look forward to these annual games, and in some cases, extended family will come early to visit so that they can be present for all nine nights.

Waiting for Baby Jesus

Santa Claus is well-known in many parts of Colombia. Throughout the month of December, you’ll see images of the jolly bearded figure wearing the red suit.

However, Colombians typically don’t keep with the Christmas tradition of leaving treats out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. That’s because, in Colombia, it isn’t Santa Claus who brings gifts to children. Instead, Colombians say that it’s the Niño Jesus or Baby Jesus who delivers presents.

Praying the Novena

Colombian Christmas traditions are closely linked to Catholic customs. Most Colombians are Catholics, and praying the novenas is a common practice that takes place on the days leading up to Christmas from December 16th to 24th. 

Collectively called the Novena de Aguinaldos, the prayers are performed in remembrance of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Wise Men, and Baby Jesus, who sought refuge in a new location each night. Similarly, the novena is prayed and celebrated in a different house each night.

The Christmas prayers are repeated privately or collectively during the novenas and are read aloud from a book circulated among the attendees. Often, neighbors take turns hosting the evening prayers, and people enjoy Christmas food and conversation after praying.

Christmas lights everywhere

Christmas lights are a major event in Colombia. Each city takes pride in its different decorations, but Medellin is known for having the best displays, including an extravaganza that spans over 100 city parks and centers on the Medellin River.

The decorations are organized according to a theme, such as “Values Illuminate Christmas,” which tells the story of a girl named Paloma who traveled the River of Peace. Every year, people go out for a walk or take different bus routes that tour the city to admire the Christmas decorations.

With an annual attendance of over four million visitors and a budget of $10 million USD, the Medellin Christmas lights are the city’s most popular tourist attraction — considered by National Geographic magazine as one of the 10 most amazing in the world. If you have the opportunity to visit South America or travel to Colombia during the holidays, it’s worthwhile.

Colombian Christmas dinner

Christmas in Colombia culminates with a family meal on Christmas Eve, which Colombians call “Noche Buena“ or “the good night.“

Natilla is a very popular Christmas dessert and is arguably the country’s most cherished Christmas treat. It is a creamy custard dish made with milk that is eaten alongside other holiday favorites like manjar blanco (a caramel-like spread) and buñuelos (fried dough balls, served hot).

Want to try making them at home? This recipe is a good starting place.

Christmas dinner

Other popular Christmas foods and drinks served for Noche Buena include:

  • Lecona, roast pork filled with peas
  • Arepas, cornmeal cake stuffed with meat or vegetables and deep-fried
  • Ajiaco bogotano, a soup made with chicken, potato, and corn
  • Canelazo, an anise-flavored liqueur stirred into hot water and spiced with cinnamon and cloves
  • Sabajon, rum, or anise liqueur mixed with cinnamon, milk, egg yolk, sugar, and vanilla

Seafood and fish are also common Christmas food options in many regions. Colombia is the only South American nation with coasts on two oceans, and the sea’s bounty has become an integral part of the cuisine.

Attending mass

Just as it is in many countries in South America and Europe that have Catholic roots, mass is an important part of Colombian Christmas traditions. Many families head to midnight mass after the Christmas meal on Christmas Eve.

During the church service, worshipers sing Christmas carols, listen to scripture, and take communion. When mass ends, it’s officially Christmas Day.

Nativity scenes

Nativity scenes, or “los pesebres (stables),” are another significant part of a Colombian Christmas.

Just as with Christmas lights, Colombians take the nativity scene to the next level. They’re more than just a feature in individual homes.

Many towns and cities construct elaborate nativity scenes that take up entire streets. In some places, the whole cityscape becomes Bethlehem during the season, and the decorations typically stay up throughout the Christmas period.

Nativity scene

Day of the Innocents

The fun of a Colombian Christmas doesn’t stop on December 25. Three days later, on December 28, Colombians celebrate the Day of the Innocents.

This holiday is similar to April Fools’ Day, with people playing practical jokes and pranks on each other. As a part of the overall Christmas traditions, Colombians view the holiday as a time to raise their spirits so that they can joyously enter the new year.

Three Kings Day

The celebration of Three Kings Day is the last part of the traditional Colombian Christmas season. Observed January 6, it is a day for remembering the journey the wise men took to see the Niño Jesus.

In some parts of Colombia, children leave their shoes by the door in hopes that the three kings will fill them with treats. Many cities throughout the country host parades for the holiday, and families often gather to enjoy one last Christmas meal as well as the glow of the Christmas tree and other decorations.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Remitly. We hope you have enjoyed reminiscing or discovering Colombia’s Christmas traditions and that this article inspires you to add a new Christmas tradition or two to your holiday celebrations, wherever you are this December.

More reading about Colombia