Colombia has more public holidays than in the U.S. or countries in Europe. Colombia currently has 18 public holidays and 12 of these are Catholic holidays. Furthermore, Colombia holidays are known as festivos.

Reportedly only two countries in the world have more public holidays than Colombia – Sri Lanka and India – according to WorldAtlas.

Once you have lived in Colombia for a while you get used to there being a lot of holidays in Colombia. In addition, several readers of the Medellin Guru website have asked for details about the Colombia holidays. So, we are providing this guide to all the public Colombia holidays.

Also, I previously included Colombia having more holidays than the U.S. as one of 27 Reasons I Chose to Live in Medellín.

Colombia Holidays: The Official Holidays

Some of the dates for holidays in Colombia fluctuate from year to year. For many Colombia holidays, if they fall on a weekend or in the middle of the week, the holiday date is moved to the following Monday. So, 11 of the 18 holidays in Colombia in 2018 are on a Monday.

This is known as Emiliani’s Law in Colombia, which was enacted on December 6, 1983 as Law 51. This law requires that most holidays are moved to the following Monday. However, Colombia holiday dates associated with Easter, Independence Day, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas are never changed.

In addition, only three months in 2018 – February, April and September – have no national public Colombia holidays.

Here is a list of all 18 of the official national public Colombia holidays and the dates in 2018 for these holidays:

Colombia Holidays #1. January 1 – Monday: New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo)

New Year’s Day is January 1st, the first day of the year. Most noteworthy, New Year’s Day is reportedly the most widely observed public holiday in the world.

All countries except for Israel that use the Gregorian calendar celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st. Countries that use the Julian Calendar tend to observe New Year’s Day on January 14th.

This holiday is traditionally celebrated with fireworks displays at midnight in the 31st in the local time zones. In Colombia, you’ll see fireworks displays in many cities in pueblos. And it’s typical that you will hear fireworks early into the morning in many neighborhoods.

Colombia Holidays #2. January 8 – Monday: Epiphany (Día de Los Reyes Magos)

Epiphany is one of the major religious celebrations in Colombia along with Easter and Christmas.  This holiday commemorates the presentation of the infant Jesus to the three wise men.

This holiday is normally celebrated on January 6. But since this falls on a weekend in 2018, the date was moved in Colombia to Monday, January 8.

In Colombia, some keep their Christmas trees up until this date to celebrate. The period between Christmas Day and Epiphany is known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Colombia Holidays #3. March 19 – Monday: Saint Joseph’s Day (Día de San José)

Saint Joseph’s Day is a holiday that celebrates the Virgin Mary’s husband and Jesus’ adoptive father.

Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the Catholic Church, unborn children, fathers, immigrants and workers.

Semana Santa parade in Popayán, photo by National Police of Colombia

Semana Santa parade in Popayán, photo by National Police of Colombia

Colombia Holidays #4. March 29 – Thursday: Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo)

Maundy Thursday is a religious Holy day that is observed all over the world. It was established to commemorate the last supper of Jesus Christ with his Apostles. In addition, this holiday occurs the day after Ash Wednesday and the day before Good Friday.

This holiday combined with Good Friday on March 30 are part of the holy week or Semana Santa in Colombia, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus as told by the New Testament.

It should be noted that many in Colombia take this entire Semana Santa week off. While only two of these days are considered national public holidays and two days are on the weekend, it has become traditional for many smaller businesses in Colombia to close for this entire week. Semana Santa this year in Colombia is considered to be from Sunday, March 25 to Saturday, March 31.

Colombia Holidays #5. March 30 – Friday: Good Friday (Viernes Santo)

Good Friday is a religious holiday that commemorates the crucifixion – and eventual death – of Jesus Christ. This holiday is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, this day is typically treated as a fast day – a day in which one only has one full meal and abstains from the consumption of meat.

Colombia Holidays #6. May 1 – Tuesday: Labor Day (Día del Trabajo)

Labor Day originated in the United States where it falls on the first Monday in September.

Throughout the rest of the world, over 80 countries including Colombia celebrate Labor Day, also known as May Day and International Workers’ Day, on the first day of May.

Colombia Holidays #7. May 14 – Monday:  Ascension Day (Día de la Ascención)

Ascension Day is the celebration of Jesus rising into heaven after he had spent 40 days on earth after the resurrection. According to the New Testament, this took place before the eyes of his disciples. Ascension Day is the 40th day of Easter.

In Colombia, as with many other religious holidays, Ascension Day is celebrated on the Monday after the actual date.

Colombia Holidays #8. June 4 – Monday: Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi signifies the Body of Christ. And it refers to the components of the Eucharist also known as the Holy Communion, Last Supper or Lord’s Supper. This holiday celebrates Christ’s holiness.

In 1264 Pope Urban IV declared Corpus Christi as a holiday. And the first country to declare it as a national holiday was Spain in 1280.

Colombia Holidays #9. June 11 – Monday: Sacred Heart (Sagrado Corazón)

The Sacred Heart holiday commemorate the physical heart of Jesus as a symbol of his divine love for all humanity. The devotion to the Sacred Heart originally developed in the middle ages out of worship to the wounds that Jesus received during crucifixion.

In Colombia, this official public holiday always falls on a Monday, since it’s celebrated 10 weeks and a day after Easter Sunday.

Colombia Holidays #10. July 2 – Monday: Saint Peter and Saint Paul Day (Día de San Pedro y San Pablo)

This public holiday commemorates the martyrdom (torture, suffering and death) of two saints, the two apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

This holiday is likely one of the oldest holidays celebrated in the Christian calendar. In 2010, images of Peter and Paul were found on the wall of catacombs dating back to the 4th Century AD.

Fireworks in Medellín on July 20, 2010 as part of Colombia Bicentennial Independence Day celebration, photo by Danial Echeverri

Fireworks in Medellín on July 20, 2010 as part of Colombia Bicentennial Independence Day celebration, photo by Danial Echeverri

Colombia Holidays #11. July 20 – Friday: Colombia Independence Day

This holiday is always celebrated on July 20. On July 20, 1810, an uprising in Bogota is seen as the start for independence in Colombia. On this date in 1810, Colombian patriots stirred the population of Bogotá into a major uprising in the streets against Spanish rule. And this uprising is celebrated by the Colombia Independence Day holiday.

Independence Day in Colombia is typically celebrated with parades and marches throughout the country. Fireworks, watching sports and listening to traditional Colombian music are other popular activities.

Painting of the Battle of Boyacá by J. W. Cañarete in the National Museum, photo by Peter Angritt

Painting of the Battle of Boyacá by J. W. Cañarete in the National Museum, photo by Peter Angritt

Colombia Holidays #12. August 7 – Tuesday: Battle of Boyacá Day (Día de Batalla de Boyacá)

This holiday in Colombia is celebrated every year on August 7.  This marks the date of the Battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1819, which was a decisive victory in the war for Colombia’s independence from Spain.

Even though fighting continued for a few more years, the victory at Boyacá is seen as the definitive battle in Colombia’s war for independence.  This important victory was the precursor for Colombia’s eventual independence from Spain.

Colombia Holidays #13. August 20 – Monday: Assumption of Mary (Asunción de María)

The Assumption of Mary is holiday that is celebrated in August every year. This day commemorates Mary’s death and her assumption into heaven.

Some people mistakenly believe Mary ascended into heaven. But this is incorrect. It was Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven. While Mary was assumed or taken into heaven by God.

Colombia Holidays #14. October 15 – Monday: Columbus Day (Día de la Raza)

Columbus Day celebrates the day when Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas, which occurred in 1492. This is a day that is celebrated in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Colombia Holidays #15. November 5 – Monday: All Saints’ Day (Día de los Santos)

This holiday is a commemoration day for all Christian saints. In Roman Catholicism, All Saints’ Day is reportedly considered to be a holy day of obligation. So, Catholics are supposed to go to mass on the date unless there is a good reason not to attend, such as illness.

Colombia Holidays #16. November 12 – Monday: Independence of Cartagena

Independence of Cartagena is celebrated on the Monday on or following 11 November. The holiday commemorates November 11, 1811. This is the date when Cartagena became the first Colombian city to declare independence from the Spanish.

Festivities on this day include many parades in Colombia. And the most notable is in Cartagena where the most colorful parade takes place, which ends at Plaza Trinidad, the location where Cartagena’s independence was originally declared.

Also, in Cartagena on this date is the ‘Battle of Flowers’, which is the beauty contest to pick Miss Colombia who will go on to represent Colombia in the Miss Universe contest.

Día de las Velitas, photo by Melissa Álvarez

Día de las Velitas, photo by Melissa Álvarez

Colombia Holidays #17. December 8 – Saturday: Immaculate Conception Day (Día de la Inmaculada Concepción)

This holiday celebrates the belief that Jesus was born of an immaculate conception to the Virgin Mary. And that Mary was void of original sin all of her life.

This holiday actually starts on the evening before in Colombia. In addition, the Christmas season in Colombia unofficially tends to start on December 7, which is known as Día de las Velitas (Day of Candles).

In the evening on December 7, people place paper lanterns and candles are placed on porches, balconies, streets, sidewalks, squares and parks in cities and pueblos throughout Colombia. On December 8 it is typical for houses in Colombia to hoist a white flag with the image of the Virgin Mary.

Everywhere in the country, you will be able to see these candles and lanterns. They are placed to honor Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.

World-class Alumbrados Christmas lights display in Medellín in 2017

World-class Alumbrados Christmas lights display in Medellín in 2017

Colombia Holidays #18. December 25 – Tuesday: Christmas Day (Día de Navidad)

Christmas Day celebrates the nativity of Jesus, which according to tradition took place on December 25, 1 BC. December 25 is a public holiday in many countries around the world.

Christmas is more of a month-long celebration in Colombia than just a day. Medellín in particular celebrates Christmas in a big way each year with its world-class Christmas lights that in 2018 are from November 30, 2018 to January 7, 2019.

Colombian Holidays: The Other Holidays

Some cities in Colombia have additional public holidays. For example, Barranquilla has two holidays on the Monday and Tuesday of Carnival in Barranquilla. These will be on March 4 and March 5 in 2019.

Día de Amor y Amistad (Valentine’s Day of Colombia) is on September 15, 2018

Día de Amor y Amistad (Valentine’s Day of Colombia) is on September 15, 2018

In addition, there are many observed holidays that aren’t official holidays.  For example, Día de Amor y Amistad (Valentine’s Day of Colombia) falls on September 15 in 2018.  Here’s a list of several of the observed holidays in Colombia in 2018 that aren’t official public holidays:

  • March 8 – Thursday: Women’s Day
  • March 25 – Sunday: Palm Sunday
  • April 1 – Sunday: Easter Day
  • April 26 – Thursday: Secretaries’ Day
  • May 13 – Sunday: Mother;s Day
  • May 15 – Tuesday: Teacher’s Day
  • June 17 – Sunday: Father’s Day
  • September 15 – Saturday: Día de Amor y Amistad (Valentine’s Day of Colombia)
  • October 31 – Wednesday: Halloween
  • December 24 – Monday: Christmas Eve

Many Places Are Closed on Colombian Holidays

In Colombia, on the public holiday dates, all the banks, government offices, many shops and some restaurants close. Larger grocery stores tend to be open and many shops in the malls and movie theaters will be open on Colombia holidays.

In some countries, during holidays everything seems to be closed. In Colombia, the malls and movie theaters tend to be open and will normally be packed on holidays. So, if you plan to go to a movie on a holiday in Colombia buy a ticket early or you will have to stand in long lines.

The labor laws in Colombia require that employers provide their employees a day off from work for all official national holidays. But these laws do not state whether or not it is required for employees to be paid for national holidays.

However, in many cases, employment contracts provide employees with payment on days off that occur due to an official national holiday. Also, some employees will have to work on holidays, as not everything closes.

So Many Colombia Holidays

So Many Colombia Holidays

The Bottom Line: Colombia Holidays

A majority (11 of 18) of the public holidays in Colombia in 2018 fall on a Monday. Also, two are on a Friday this year. So, there are 13 long weekends in Colombia in 2018 due to Colombia holidays. As a result, 25 percent of the weeks in 2018 in Colombia are long weekends due to public Colombian holidays.

With so many Colombia holidays, it turns out that many Colombians on some of these holidays don’t even know what is being celebrated in my experience.

Having so many Colombian holidays is probably one of the reasons why Colombia tends to rank highly in global happiness surveys over the past few years. And Colombia frequently ranks in the top three. Furthermore, several times Colombia has been ranked number one. For example, here’s a survey from WIN/Gallup in 2015 where Colombia was ranked the happiest country in the world.

Note that several of the dates for Colombian holidays change each year. So, we plan to update this article each year or post a new article so this website remains up-to-date.

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.