The Spanish word for candle is vela, the itas on the end is the diminutive ending, which changes the meaning of the word to little candle rather than just candle. The diminutive is used excessively here in Antioquia, to the extent that people use it unconsciously even when referring to something that isn’t necessarily small. A friend of mine once said, “Yo tengo un jardincito muy grande,” which translated into English means, I have a small, very big garden. I repeated what he had said and started laughing, but he didn’t understand why until I dissected the sentence and explained what was amusing, then he laughed too.
The Day of the Candles is meant to be the official start of the Christmas period, however, most people decorate their houses and enter into the Christmas spirit sometime in November. The 8th of December is a national holiday, though this year, 2013 it fell on a Sunday and so made very little difference with people going to work as normal on Monday. In some countries when this occurs the Monday becomes a holiday, but not here.
On the night of the 7th people light candles in the street outside their houses, on walls, pavements, on their balconies, on their window sills, pretty much anywhere imaginable, sometimes just the naked candle or very often the candles are placed inside cardboard lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours. As long as the weather permits, it’s pleasant to walk around the neighbourhoods and see all the candles flickering and lighting up the streets.
Luckily this 7th of December it didn’t rain. We are currently in the transition period between the rainy season and the dry season, which are referred to as winter and summer here. In Britain both could be referred to as summer depending on whether it is a dry summer or a wet summer!!
Personally I feel that though this day is a beautiful tradition, unfortunately some people these days use it as an excuse to party all night. This year there were fireworks being let off all night, I got up at around five, and when I took our dog out for a walk just after six there were still occasional explosions echoing around the surrounding mountains. I find the incessant noise at Christmas time quite tiring after a while.
If you are in Colombia on the 7th of December in the future, take a walk around the streets after about 8 p.m. and soak up the friendly atmosphere.
The Pesebre is a common feature at Christmas time here in Colombia, most houses will have one in some shape or form, plus large scale Pesebres are usually constructed in shopping centres and the main squares of the city. Some people build large and often intricate ones outside their houses too, and people walking in the street stop to admire their work. In the shops it is possible to buy all the figures needed to decorate the Pesebre, such as Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, plus farm animals, the three wise men, and a great variety of buildings of various shapes and sizes. It is well worth taking the time to visit some of the locations where the large Pesebres are as many of them are works of art.
There are also many stalls selling food and drinks where you can stop for a rest. I have been to see the lights along the river on various occasions and it is an enjoyable experience and very beautiful.
There are lights in other cities making up the municipal area, such as Envigado and Sabaneta, which are also worth seeing if you have the time and inclination. Another thing you could do, though personally I cannot think of anything more boring and tortuous, is to take a tour of the lights in a traditional Chiva. A Chiva is one of the old, brightly painted, traditional buses which are still used occasional in the small country towns.
Here in Medellin, they convert the Chivas into what can best be described as mobile discotheques that travel around the city showing off the Christmas lights to their passengers, whose main objective appears not to see the lights, but to get ridiculously drunk while being entertained by extremely loud music which is blaring out from the speakers, denying any opportunity for conversation, be it interesting or not.
I have never been on one of these tours, though many times I have seen them passing by, and I fail to see why anyone in their right mind would want to pay for something so awful, as we say in Britain, I’d prefer to sit and watch paint drying on a wall than being on one of these tours! But everyone is different and there is obviously a market for them as they continue to prowl the streets at Christmas every year.
So that’s the build up to Christmas here in Colombia, if you are here I hope you enjoy it.
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