Día de las Velitas (Day of Candles) on December 7 is a widely observed holiday tradition in Colombia and is considered the unofficial start of the Christmas season.
But Christmas started early in 2020 in the Aburrá Valley where Medellín is located with Envigado starting its Christmas lights on November 18.
This holiday tradition is celebrated at sunset on December 7, on the eve of the Immaculate Conception public holiday on Sunday, December 8. Immaculate Conception is one of 18 annual public holidays in Colombia.
On Día de las Velitas, at sunset, millions of people in Colombia place candles and paper lanterns on balconies, windowsills, porches, parks, plazas, streets and sidewalks throughout cities and pueblos in Colombia.
Also, leading up to this day, you will see small candles being sold in every grocery store in Colombia. Note the above photo of Día de las Velitas is by Melissa Álvarez.
History of Día de las Velitas on December 7
Día de las Velitas dates back to December 7, 1854, when Pope Pius IX defined as dogma the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which was published in his Apostolic constitution, Ineffabilis Deus.
In anticipation of this decision, people lit candles and paper lanterns to show their support of Pope Pius IX.
The Catholic church of Colombia kept this tradition alive with an annual tradition of lighting candles the night of December 7. However, in recent years, Día de las Velitas has lost some of its religious significance and is considered a popular holiday tradition regardless if devout or not.
A common belief now is that each candle represents a wish in the New Year. So, with each candle lit, a new wish is granted. And if the flame burns longer it’s thought to be the likelihood of a wish coming true.
Also, in some locations in Colombia, the lighting of candles happens after midnight. For example, in the Caribbean region of Colombia including Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta, the lighting of candles takes place in the early hours of December 8, instead of the night before.
Immaculate Conception Holiday on December 8
The Immaculate Conception 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.
On December 8, it is typical for houses in Colombia to hoist a white flag with the image of the Virgin Mary.
In Colombia, on public holidays that happen to be on the weekend like the Immaculate Conception Day holiday in 2019, 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.
Where to See Día de las Velitas in Medellín
You can see candles lit throughout the city of Medellín. Some of the best places to see candles being lit include:
You can walk through neighborhoods in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley and in other cities and pueblos in Colombia and see this tradition with candles everywhere.
Each of the best pueblos near Medellín also celebrates this tradition of lighting candles on December 7. But since it’s a holiday, it’s not the best time to visit pueblos, as they will be packed with people.
What Else to Do in Medellín in December and January?
Día de las Velitas is only the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season in Medellín and Colombia. There are other days that are important during this busy month of holiday celebrations in Medellín:
November 30 to January 31 – world famous Medellín Christmas lights (Los Alumbrados). The primary lights display this year in 2020 in Medellín has its biggest Christmas lights display at Parques del Río, along the river.
The second major location of lights for Christmas this year is at the Parque Norte amusement park, along the river. Also, we have photos of the 2020 Medellín Christmas lights and a detailed guide to the Medellín Christmas lights for 2020.
December 8 – Immaculate Conception holiday and also Desfile de Mitos y Leyendas (Parade of Myths and Legends). This parade is held at night and is a display of tradition, folklore and creativity with some large floats and many participants in costumes. The history of this parade is shown in the above video from the Mayor of Medellín.
The route for the Desfile de Mitos y Leyendas parade in Medellín is in El Centro and starts at 7 pm at Teatro Pablo Tobón Uribe and then to La Playa, Av. Oriental, San Juan and finally to Parque de los Pies Descalzos.
December 16 to 24 – Novena de Aguinaldos, which for nine days, recalls the time before Jesus was born and ending with his arrival in the manger of Bethlehem. These days are celebrated in Colombia with carols, hymns and food.
December 24 – Christmas Eve, which is an observed holiday but is not an official Colombian public holiday. This is typically when Christmas gifts are exchanged in Colombia at night.
December 25 – Christmas Day (Día de Navidad) holiday in Colombia. 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 including Colombia. Christmas is more of a month-long celebration in Colombia than just a day.
December 28 – Día de los Santos Inocentes, which is like an April Fool’s day in Colombia.
December 31 – Año Neuvo (New Year’s) celebration at midnight on December 31 with fireworks in many parts of Medellín and the Aburrá Valley. And January 1 is a public holiday in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Día de las Velitas – Day of Candles Tradition in Colombia
Día de las Velitas is an important tradition in Colombia and for tourists it is interesting to experience.
We recommend going to one of the parks in the Medellín metro area and you will see many candles on the streets and in the parks. Or buy some candles and light them at home and see all your neighbors do the same.
This is the unofficial start of the Christmas festivities in Medellín. So, watch our Medellín weekly events calendar that is updated weekly, where we cover the most important events for foreigners in Medellín during December.
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Editors note: updated on November 23, 2020 to add the dates of the 2020 Medellín Alumbrados (Christmas Lights).
Editors note: updated on December 2, 2020 with revised dates for the 2020 Medellín Alumbrados (Christmas Lights).
Editors note: updated on December 6, 2020 to add information about Christmas lights in Sabaneta and Envigado