Day of the Candles - Dia de las Velitas
The tradition started in the mid-1800s as a religious celebration honouring Mary. For about a century the celebration involved families getting together on the streets and starting bonfires. People would chant and pray, uniting Colombian settlements in religious worship. Some might say somewhat inevitably, however, in the 1960s people started to drink a little too much and throw random debris into the fires, causing a great deal of mess come the next day, as well as pollution problems.
The tradition, however, remained installed in the Colombian people and so, in order to retrieve the peaceful ambience of the initial celebrations, it was decided that the focus of the night should be more on family, since the religious aspect was slowly diminishing anyway. In order to curb the messiness, the bonfires were replaced by candles and families were encouraged to take to the streets with food and drinks in order to meet their neighbours, engender a sense of community and generally enjoy a nice, peaceful night on the streets of their town/city/village.
Particularly of note are the candle displays in some of Colombia’s major cities and tourist destinations. Bogotá’s main plaza (Plaza Simon Bolivar) is strewn with candles and often holds a concert, and Medellín has many pockets of beautiful decorations. Villa de Leyva, too, is a great place to visit to enjoy El Dia de Las Velitas.
While the religious significance of this holiday may have lost some of its intensity, if you’re in Colombia for this day you’ll find it a great time to meet people, talk to locals and understand the true warmth of Colombians.