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For our friends around the world:

by Diana Alandete

Christmas to me is all about our memories and traditions.  It is remembering our old memories and creating new ones.

Christmas in Colombia was a very special celebration for us in our family, a time to celebrate our special traditions.  It is a Catholic celebration, which compiles different old traditions that we used to practice, and once we moved to Canada, things changed including these Christmas traditions.

Christmas in Colombia starts early in December with different traditions and celebrations. The Night of the Candles (La Noche de las Velitas) on December 7th, the City gets illuminated with candles and lanterns (farolitos), outside the homes, and on the streets.  The tradition says that this was done to illuminate the Virgin path, and most Cities and Towns get illuminated with many Christmas lights and beautiful decorations.

It is all about the celebration of the birth of baby Jesus (El Niño Dios).  We prepare the Nativity scene before December 15th.  The Christmas manger in Spanish is called “el pesebre,” which we decorate with the Virgin Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and lots of little animals surrounding them.  The star guides them, along with the 3 magic Kings, who will arrive and brings gifts to baby Jesus on January 6th.  We also decorate the traditional Christmas tree with lots of Christmas ornaments, lights and vibrant colors.

The Christmas Advent Prayer (La Novena de Aguinaldos), is a special tradition in Colombia starting on the night of December 16 th to December 24th, which is practiced in most homes. My Father used to organize the Novena de Aguinaldos for all of us every single night for nine consecutive nights.  We got together with neighbors, friends, family and children of the neighborhood surrounding the manger, praying and singing Carols, and eating delicious snacks, homemade cookies and different mouthwatering desserts that my mother prepared for us.

Every night we read a passage of the history of Virgin Mary and Joseph looking for a place for the baby Jesus to be born, each night representing one of her nine months of her pregnancy.  We pray and sing Christmas Carlos together, and every person had a different instrument; tambourines, drums, guitars, maracas, or they used spoons and pots if we did not have enough musical instruments for everyone.  We sing several Christmas Carols which are known in Spanish as “villancicos: and everybody sings along.  We enjoyed this so much!  We had lots of fun!

The excitement grows with each day that gets closer to the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, which is the special night to celebrate for us in Latin America.  I find it very different here in Canada, where the main Christmas celebration, including the Christmas dinner and opening of the presents, is on the 25th of December.

In Latin America, entire families get together with a very delicious Christmas dinner, pleasant conversations, and we all wait until 12 midnight to place baby Jesus in the manger after he is born.

The children get anxious waiting for baby Jesus to come and deliver them the presents.  We start sharing and opening the gifts at 12 midnight on Christmas Eve, as it is the baby Jesus (El Niño Dios), who bring the presents to the children in Colombia, not Santa Claus.  One of the members of the family is in charge of calling the name of each person to deliver each present and we wait until each person opens each present. There is a lot of excitement!  Our presents are very simple, they are not expensive, but we have lots of fun! It is all about the joy of being together!

I always used to sing and play the guitar and everybody sings along as well.  There were other members of the family who sing and play guitar as well, and we take turns singing and playing the songs.

Christmas is about remembering our traditions, and remembering our loved ones who are in Heaven, who live in our hearts and memories. For some people, Christmas brings sadness because some members of the family are gone, and some loved ones are not present either due to different circumstances.  Some of them are in Heaven like my Dad, and some are far away in my old country, and some live close, but are far away at the same time.

The End of the year celebration is a nostalgic and happy moment at the same time, with lots of different rituals known as “agueros” in Spanish, wishing for a successful and prosperous New Year, such as eating 12 grapes at midnight.  Every time that we eat one grape, we make a wish that we want to obtain for the New Year and celebrate with Champagne, but not for me, as I do not drink any kind of alcohol.

Another “Aguero is to wear yellow underwear on the night of the New Year’s Eve, in order to attract prosperity and money in the New Year, however, if you want to attract love, then you wear red underwear instead.

Another example that I have seen many times, is that if you want to travel in the New Year, you have to pack a suitcase and run with the suitcase around the block, the longer the run the farther you will travel.  My Colombian friends and Latin American friends who live in the same building where I live here in Canada, did this “aguero” last year.  I saw each one of them with a big suitcase going around the block in this cold Canadian climate.  They were so funny!  They asked me to accompany them, but I told them that I did not want to travel.

One other ritual that we practice, which my Mother does as well, is to sweep the dust of the house to outside of the door, in order to remove the bad energies that have accumulated over the 12 previous months, and leave the house clean and open for new and positive energies to enter the home and attract positive changes for the New Year.

We cook a special traditional dinner, we eat together, and wait for the New Year to arrive and we do a prayer together.  It is a nostalgic moment as the old Year goes away, and happy at the same time for the new coming year, we hug, make a toast and wish to each other a successful prosperous and wonderful New Year.

We display a tray of dry lentils and rice in our homes, which represents abundance and prosperity. My Mother is still displaying the lentils and rice from last year, and she will replace them for new ones this New Year’s Eve.  Some other people put them inside their pockets on the night of New Year’s Eve.

Christmas is all about the preparation; putting the tree together, the ornaments, the Christmas lights, the decorations, singing Christmas Carols, playing guitar, and children playing different musical instruments.  It is the joy that Christmas brings to all of us – sharing a beautiful moment together.

Christmas is about sharing with those who believe, sharing with our loved ones, and our pets, remembering the ones who are gone, and remembering the times we have enjoyed together in the past when they were with us.  Christmas is also about sharing with those who lost the Christmas spirit.

I feel happy even though my Father is no longer with us, and I believe that he manifests his presence in many different ways.  I consider myself as the split image of my father; his personality, his generosity, his warm heart, his kindness and humbleness, his sincerity, honesty, compassion and love for everyone.  Several times my Mother told me that I act exactly like my father, and that is true!  Of course! I learned from him!  I was his Princess!  He gave me so much love, and I carry all that love with me forever, wherever I go and whatever I do.  I am very proud to be whom I am.  I love you Daddy, wherever you are…

I personally believe in miracles and miracles happen to those who believe in them. I believe that if we have lots of faith, the miracles, our wishes and dreams will come true!

I love you all… Merry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!  Performed  by  Diana Alandete   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb0j6b3aLOQ

Silent Night!. Noche de Paz!  Performed by Diana Alandete   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb0j6b3aLOQ

Festival of Christmas Lights in Antioquia, Colombia!  Alumbrados Navidenos en Antioquia, Colombia