Celebrating the Day of the Little Candles, Día de las Velitas, in Colombia

What is the Day of the Little Candles/Día de las Velitas?

The Day of the Little Candles, known as Noche de las Velitas, or Día de las Velitas in Spanish, is celebrated every year on the 7th of December. It commemorates the occasion of the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, occurring the following day. On this day, Catholics honour the occasion of Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she was the chosen one and was to be the mother of Jesus. In celebration of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th marks a national holiday in Colombia. 

What happens during Día de las Velitas?

On Día de las Velitas, people around Colombia light colourful candles and place them all over their towns – on sidewalks, balconies, and windowsills. Timings of when the candles are lit are mixed across Colombia, some lighting them on the evening of December 7th, some light theirs at midnight on the 8th December. Día de las Velitas is considered an unofficial start date to the Christmas season. Celebrations are varied, some spend it with their family, many go out dancing with their friends. Lots of people choose to dress up! 

It’s likely wax will continue to beautifully brighten up the streets for a couple of days after the celebrations. 

Meanings behind Día de las Velitas

Día de las Velitas began as a celebration within the Catholic faith, and over time has become a cultural, social and religious event in Colombia. People find Día de las Velitas a spiritual experience that marks the beginning of one of the most religiously important months of the year, as well as an opportunity to start new beginnings before the new year. People use these two days as a time to be grateful, especially in the familial sense. It is also used as a means to commemorate family members that have passed away. Typical dishes that are eaten during Día de las Velitas include sweet dumplings or custards. 

As the Christmas celebrations begin, songs such as “Las Cuatro Fiestas”, “El Emperadorcito” or “Las Piragua” are sung whilst families joyously gather in celebration. 

Celebrations in different cities

Different cities in Colombia celebrate Día de las Velitas in a variety of ways…

The Municipality of Quimbaya, Department of Quindío:

Here, the community holds a Candle and Lantern Festival. Neighbourhoods throw candles and lanterns contests with each other. Moreover, the Quimbaya native people in Colombia believe in the Christmas Panther. This belief is thought to have derived from when Spanish colonialists from Antioquia arrived and their belief of the Immaculate Conception was combined with the belief that the fear of fire kept the panthers away. During Día de las Velitas, it’s common to see the sculptures of this panther surrounded by lit candles. The panther is exhibited in different forms, made with a variety of materials. 

Bogota:

Christmas decorations are scattered all over the city and traffic is closed on many streets to allow people to admire the lights. Throughout the evening, families hold activities together, holding carol events and live nativity scenes. The opening hours of shopping malls, stores, museums and other public places extend their opening hours to support celebrations.

Caribbean Region of Colombia:

In the Caribbean Region of Colombia, people light up candles and lanterns during the early hours of December 8th. Many Catholics wake up before dawn to light candles with their families, some staying up all night to light the candles and celebrate. Much like in other religions of Colombia, family gatherings are a very important way to share the celebrations, having plenty of food and drink.

Cali:

It’s common for residents of Valle del Cauca and visitors to walk along the banks of the Cali River. This river is elegantly illuminated in preparation for Christmas. 

Paisa Region:

As many of the residents in the Paisa region have Jewish descent, the Día de las Velitas takes place several nights before December 8th, similar to Hanukkah traditions. 

Each city and region celebrate Día de las Velitas in their own unique and meaningful way.

What does Día de las Velitas mean for Colombian children?

The Day of the Little Candles is considered a cherished childhood tradition. The combination of family celebrations, being thankful, and the beauty of the city can be a very meaningful experience for a child or young person. 

This Christmas, we will keep the light of children shining bright. Our Christmas fundraiser will support us in continuing to deliver our projects and support our partners. 

In dark times, a child’s smile is a shining light. Help us brighten up this Christmas.

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