Christmas Public Holiday in Colombia - Origin and traditions

25 Dec 2024

Date 2024

Wednesday, 25 of December

Date 2025

Thursday, 25 of December

Official: Christmas
Others: Nativity of Jesus
Spanish: Navidad Natividad Natividad de Jesucristo
Christmas decoration

The Christmas holiday officially begins on December 25th, commemorating the birth of Jesus. In Colombia, the celebration commences the day before, with families and friends gathering to share a meal and participate in various traditions.

Origin and meaning

This holiday, also called the Nativity of Jesus, has been commemorated worldwide since the fourth century. During that time, the first celebrants were not aware of the exact date of Jesus' birth. It was not a common practice to record dates or celebrate birthdays, but there was a strong desire to spread the gospel.

There is no evidence of how the decision to celebrate Christmas on December 25 was made. Some theories suggest that it was chosen to coincide with the Roman festival of Sol Invictus in order to replace it with the celebration of the "New Sun", Jesus. However, others argue that this is unlikely as the early Christians had recently been persecuted and would have been unlikely to adopt a pagan festival.

Another possible explanation is that the date of December 25th was chosen to symbolize the incarnation of Jesus, a concept of great theological significance that draws connections between life and death.

The celebration of Christmas as a holiday spread rapidly throughout both the Eastern and Western world. The holiday aims to foster fraternity among all people, strengthen the family as a fundamental unit of society, and encourage acts of charity, peace, and love.

En el siglo XII, las fiestas se enriquecieron con la costumbre de los pesebres. Los aguinaldos también son un gesto antiguo, atribuido a los celtas, quienes solían dar ramas de muérdanos como obsequio para bendecir las cosechas del nuevo año.

In the 12th century, the celebrations were enhanced by the custom of creating manger scenes. The practice of giving Christmas gifts is also an ancient tradition, attributed to the Celts, who would give branches of mistletoe as a gift to bless the upcoming year's crops.

How to celebrate? Customs and traditions

Religious activities

All churches in cities and municipalities hold masses on December 24th in the afternoon or evening, with the main solemnity taking place on the 25th. The Christmas Novena, a series of prayers recited on nine consecutive days, commences on December 16th. Both children and adults actively participate, combining prayer with singing and enjoyment.

Family traditions

Families wrap gifts, place them under the Christmas tree in the days leading up to the holiday and distribute them at dawn on December 25th. The following morning, children receive additional gifts from the "Child God" (Niño Dios in spanish) as part of the celebration.

Other activities

During the Christmas season, the streets are adorned with decorations and lights, allowing for picturesque tours to take in the sights. Various competitions are also held to award the best decorated streets.

Most cities and municipalities organize concerts and fireworks shows.

Throughout the Christmas season, many people play "aguinaldos", which consist of meeting a challenge, such as not saying "yes" for a period of time, and receiving a prize or penance depending on the result.

Traditional food

La comida típica es muy amplia y varía entre las regiones de Colombia. Entre los platos fuertes típicos se encuentran los tamales, la lechona, el sancocho y el pavo. Otros platos y postres son: buñuelos, empanadas, natilla, arroz con leche, brevas y hojaldras.

The traditional cuisine is quite diverse and varies between the different regions of Colombia. Among the typical main dishes are tamales, suckling pig, sancocho (traditional soup) and turkey. Other dishes and desserts are: buñuelos (a type of fried dough pastry), empanadas, natilla (sweet custard-like dish), rice pudding, figs and puff pastry.

Regional celebrations

Cada región tiene su particularidad para la celebración de la fiesta de navidad. En Antioquia y Caldas es una ocasión para hacer “parrandas”. En Santander son tradicionales las procesiones de las Posadas en la Nochebuena. Se arreglan las esquinas de los parques y la tradición es bailar mientras llegan José y María a pedir hospedaje, acompañados de niños vestidos de ángeles, pastores o magos. En Boyacá es típico el “aguinaldo boyacense”, una celebración con carrozas, comparsas, música, danzas de los Caballitos, de la Trenza o de las Jirararas.

Each region has its particularity for the celebration of the Christmas party. In Antioquia and Caldas it is an occasion to have “parrandas”. In Santander, the processions of Las Posadas on Christmas Eve are traditional. The corners of the parks are decorated and it is traditional to dance while waiting until "José" and "María" arrive to ask for lodging, accompanied by children dressed as angels, shepherds or magicians. In Boyacá the "aguinaldo boyacense" is typical, a celebration with floats, troupes, music, dances of the Little Horses, the Braid or the Jirararas.

Feria de Cali

The Cali Fair, a celebration of salsa, sugar cane, and the cultural heritage of the region, begins on December 25th. The festival has been held annually since 1958 and commences with the Salsódromo, where thousands of dancers from salsa schools perform. The schedule of concerts and parties continues until December 30th.

Other public holidays