By Taylor Sullivan
Christmas season in Colombia was, as one might expect, bright, festive, and full of color! What Conor and I didn’t expect was being assaulted by a continuous stream of Christmas decor for sale, starting on October 1st. October, really? Cue two totally confused Americans, disoriented and dazed, trying to navigate around a, I kid you not, hundred foot long table of trees, Santas, and ornaments smack dab in the middle of our friendly neighborhood Home Center (Colombian Home Depot). We hypothesized since most Colombians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, they just wanted to get the party rolling ASAP? Regardless, we Americans stayed strong and didn’t put the mini tree up in our apartment until December 1st, but I’ll admit I started playing Christmas music in late November.
All jokes aside, Christmas in Colombia involves some beautiful, awe-inspiring traditions, and Conor and I really did appreciate the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the holiday season here before returning to the U.S.
By far, the most magical tradition was the celebration of Noche de Velitas [Dia de las Velitas], a ceremony in Colombia that marks the true beginning of the Christmas season. On Noche de Velitas, millions of Colombians illuminate the streets with multicolored candles to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The official Velitas night is on December 7th, but as a tradition, our school, Colegio Bolivar, hosts its very own Velitas, a little earlier so the school community can come together.
Although a friend told me it was her favorite night of the year, I didn’t quite know what to expect…little kids allowed to play with fire? It just didn’t sound safe! However, when I arrived at school, I was immediately struck by the peacefulness of the event. Hundreds of families were gathered in the field outside the library, seated on blankets, softly chatting, illuminated by the orange hue of glowing candles. I quickly realized despite my worst fears, children were not running around aflame! Thank goodness! As I knelt down and lit my first candle, someone told me to make a wish, or set an intention for the coming year. As cheesy as it sounds, a magic calm surrounded me as I exhaled and lit a bright blue candle. To get the candle to stick to the wooden board, I had to turn it upside down, and create a small pool of wax to then anchor it in. This is a little easier said than done. Luckily, Conor and I got the hang of it after a few tries, and happily lit our entire bag of Velitas candles. These candles were for sale at the event, but also available near the check out of pretty much every grocery store in Colombia starting in early December. I can’t tell you my wish, but I can tell you that the school did not burn down.
Another beautiful Colombian Christmas tradition, which our Spanish teacher, Nora, and other Colombian friends told us about is Novenas- a gathering a family and friends to pray, sing, and eat in the nine days (ohhh novenas, like nueve) leading up to Christmas. Nora explained that she and her many siblings rotate the hosting of the event from house to house, and that there are specific prayers that correspond with each night. One of our favorite doormen at our apartment invited us to celebrate with him and his family, but sadly we had to decline since Conor and I left Colombia before Novenas started. However, I love the idea of this tradition and the emphasis on spending quality time with loved ones while anticipating the birth of Jesus. Maybe I was just excited to get home to see my family, but I swear could really feel the excitement in the air starting early in December as people planned and prayed for Christmas.
-Velitas at Colegio Bolivar
-Playing Tejo for our friend Alli’s birthday (basically Colombian corn-hole, except with clay, rocks, and explosives!)
-The Progressive Christmas Cocktail party, hosted by teacher friends in San Antonio
-Doing mini Velitas with our families
-Conor dragging Taylor on several cold New England runs
-Taylor seeing Hamilton with her mom (I am not gonna miss my shot!)
-Rock climbing with Maggie
-Did we mention snuggling Scout?
-Also snuggling Tank Booya, Tay´s childhood dog who is 15 years young
-Tay traveling to NYC with Brooke
-Escape room with Taylor’s high school bestie, Kaitlyn and her fiance Arthur
-Skiing on fake snow at Ski Sundown
-Countless hours tucked into the couch reading (ah, the life!)…if you haven’t read Educated by Tara Westover, read it!
As for my “Schooled” post, I had a VERY epic fail at the start of December in which I overestimated my Spanish speaking abilities and ended up receiving chunky Kelly Clarkson highlights circa 2003, when I thought I asked for a sun kissed balayage. Thankfully my friend, Diana, saved me by hooking me up with her expert stylist, who did some amazing damage control. Enjoy these terrible, pre-correction photos in which I could be easily confused with a zebra.
Taylor Sullivan is a 10th grade English teacher from New England who enjoys cooking traveling, and art. For all the details, check out her blog, Getting Schooled in Colombia.