Insider’s guide to Christmas traditions in Medellín
If you are visiting Medellín during the Christmas season and are wondering what to do and how to celebrate these days, this article is for you. We invite you to celebrate some of our favorite local events and christmas traditions that take place in the city during this holiday season.
Christmas Traditions #1: 30 November (midnight) – Alborada
If you’re in Colombia during the month of December you need to know that, more than a single-day celebration, Christmas is celebrated throughout the entire month.
And we mean this literally. If you happen to be in Medellín on November 30th, you’ll understand what we are talking about. When the clock strikes midnight, locals celebrate the start of December with a cocktail of fireworks, firecrackers and music.
This christmas traditions is called Alborada and it started around the year 2003. Although fireworks are forbidden city-wide, this tradition is still alive and continues strong.
Tip: Make sure to book a place with a rooftop and be there at midnight to see the fireworks. If you are not into noisy firecrackers, be ready with some good earplugs
Christmas Traditions #2: 7 December – Dia de las Velitas
The so-called “Day of the (little) candles” is one of our favorite events of the year. Families gather in the city’s neighborhoods at night and light candles outside their homes.
You’ll be able to see thousands of little lights, ranging from simple lines of candles on a doorstep to elaborate large lantern displays that require the closing of entire blocks. All generations come together to celebrate this christmas traditions, a unique combination of lights, family, music and food.
Tip: If you want the authentic experience, we recommend strolling around the different neighborhoods of Sabaneta, Envigado (La Magnolia, Barrio Mesa, La Mina) or Moravia (Comuna 4).
Christmas Traditions #3: 7 December to 6 January – Alumbrados
Medellín is known for its large public Christmas light displays, which span across different areas of the city. Locals take pride in their Christmas decorations and lights, which illuminate the city from December 7th to January 15th (2022).
If you are in town during this time of the year, you’ll be able to enjoy the lights throughout the city, especially along main streets and public parks, such as Parques del Río, Parque Norte or Parque de Envigado.
The biggest display is located over the Medellín River (Río Medellín) and it goes from Puente de Guayaquil to Puente de San Juan. Every year, the river lights up from 6pm till midnight, with different designs that vary depending on the theme.
This year (2022), the city will be illuminated by the characters and visual imagery of Encanto, the Disney movie based in Colombia. If you are interested in visiting the display, you can take the Metro to the station Industriales or take an Uber or cab to Parques del Río.
Tip: If you prefer to visit the Christmas lights with a guide, check out the special bicycle tour offered by @Turibike; you can contact them here.
Christmas traditions #4: 16 – 24 December – Las Novenas
The novena is a christmas traditions followed by Catholics across Colombia from December 16th to 24th. It consists of nine consecutive days of prayers (hence the name), in preparation for Christmas. In Colombia, novenas are very important, not only because of their religious aspect, but because they represent an opportunity to celebrate with family, to gather with friends and for the children to get little presents.
Families gather around the Christmas nativity at a different house each day, sing some special christmas carols, eat buñuelos y natilla (popular local christmas treats) and at the end of each novena, the children who attended and sang are rewarded with aguinaldos (little presents), so children love it!
If you want to be part of a novena, Real City Tours celebrates one in Moravia, our favorite neighborhood in Medellín (where we run our Barrio Transformation Tour), on December 19th in the afternoon. If you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Tip: Join us in our novena in Moravia or go to a shopping center in the late afternoon – most of them host this event on all of the nine days.
24 December – Navidad
In Colombia, people celebrate Christmas on the night of the 24th with their families and sometimes neighbors too. This might be a challenging date for foreigners, since many places such as restaurants, bars and stores close early, as locals go home to their relatives. If you are spending Christmas Eve in Colombia, we recommend you order take-out food or check in advance which restaurants will be open.
Tip: Plan ahead, it’s a challenging day to get food delivery and to find restaurants and stores that are open. Also be aware of the 25th – almost everything is closed!
31 December – Nochevieja
Unlike Europe or North America, where this day is celebrated with friends in clubs or in the streets, in Colombia December 31st is very similar to the 24th. People celebrate with their families or neighbors on the streets of their barrios. In recent years, though, more nightclubs, hotels, bars and restaurants throw New Year’s Eve parties for those who are looking to get out and have a good time. We recommend you book in advance since not many places offer this kind of event.
If you want to experience the New Year as a true Colombian, here are some (weird) rituals you can practice:
- Wear yellow underwear to attract money in the new year. You can buy it during our Walking Tour in the city center.
- Burn an Año Viejo (doll dressed in old clothes and stuffed with lots of firecrackers) to leave behind the bad experiences of the year. In some barrios this is the highlight of NYE, as they compete to make the noisiest Año Viejo.
- Exactly at midnight, locals run around the block with a suitcase to guarantee a year filled with travels and new experiences.
Tip: If you are looking to celebrate in style, contact the big hotels – they tend to organize parties.
December is a great month to visit Medellin. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in Colombian culture, get to know some of the local traditions and have a good time!