Christmas in Colombia is a big deal. It’s celebrated the entire month of December, not just on the night of the 24th and the 25th. There are enough lights in every town square to turn the night into day. Every night in December you can hear fireworks going off in anticipation of the arrival of baby Jesus, peaking at the strike of midnight on the 24th. It’s a fun atmosphere. They truly raise the stakes on ‘Christmas Spirit.’
One funny thing I learned about the traditions surrounding Christmas in Colombia is that baby Jesus brings the children gifts, not Santa. I find it strange that they have turned the story of their baby god into a gift bearing deity. From the nativity story that I’ve been told, it was kind of the opposite, that grown men brought the child gifts, not other children bringing baby Jesus gifts.
What’s even stranger about baby Jesus bringing gifts, is that there’s still many lights and figurines of Santa, or Papa Noel. I had to ask a friend why Santa was still involved, and what capacity he took on, if not a jolly man bearing gifts. Apparently, he has no significance other than a nice Christmas symbol.
Another funny thing about the gift-bearing baby Jesus, is that adults will still use the terminology when asking for something. I suppose it is similar to when adults in the West would ask “Santa” for a new car, or diamond ring. Instead, Colombian adults will ask “sweet baby Jesus” to bring that desired gift. Daniel, my American friend in Medellin, and I found this to be an interesting way to phrase a request.
Another strange occurrence around Christmas in Medellin was the sudden appearance of a skating rink in the middle of Medellin’s largest mall. Colombians don’t know how to skate. Watching hundreds of them try to skate, on a skating rink that a Canadian could fit in their backyard, was a funny sight. I thought of renting a pair of skates and whizzing around, but I thought that it wasn’t worth $10 to skate on crappy ice with hundreds of my closest stumbling friends.
I had a great Christmas in Colombia last year, and was privileged to get a peak into the traditions around the holiday. Being served as many tamales and buñuelos as I could eat were a welcome tasty treat. I enjoyed spending the season with my friend’s family. I was able to see that even though there were many differences, the reality of it was that friends and family were the center of the holiday, just as it is back at home. Was there snow? Not a chance. Santa Clause? Don’t think so. Vast consumerism? Thank baby Jesus, no. The Christmas Spirit? You can bet your Christmas stocking there was, and that’s what made it Christmas. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad to everyone.