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The expat’s guide on how to prepare for Christmas in Bogotá

Christmas in Bogotá

Christmas in Colombia is quite the spectacle, especially in Bogotá where there are so many places and buildings that light up in December. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the capital for this most wonderful time of the year and you’ve got the time, space, and means, here’s a step-by-step guide for how to join in on the fun.

Step 1: Adorn everything you own in lights and other Christmas decorations the day after Halloween

I’m from the U.S. and we have Thanksgiving between Halloween and Christmas, and even though the retail stores do it, we, as the general American public, have an unspoken rule that the Christmas decorations don’t go up before Thanksgiving, which is at the end of November. Colombia, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about that awkward middle holiday and wastes no time. On November 1, no matter what kind of Halloween they had, you will see people setting up displays, Christmas trees, and stringing up lights on homes, apartments, businesses, skyscrapers, museums, malls, and pretty much anything else that can hold them. And I don’t just mean your standard icicle lights hanging over the garage. Colombians take this time of the year very seriously and it shows when you see Bogotá turn into the shining Christmas tree topper it is. Don’t be the odd man out; if you’ve got your own place, light it up! November is the new December.

Step 2: Admire all the other Christmas lights

Christmas in Bogotá
© Photograph 2018 by Alcaldía de Bogotá

While the lights go up early, major landmarks in Bogotá with elaborate displays won’t be lit until the alumbrado, when the city figuratively, and somewhat literally, throws the switch to turn them all on, which creates the Ruta Navideña, or the Christmas Route (of lights) throughout the city. Día de las Velitas, is celebrated on this night too, where friends and family gather to light little candles (the velitas) that represent wishes. While these events don’t usually happen until the first week of December, fear not, as there will still be lights for you to see after you put yours up in November; it will just be all the more beautiful when everything is finally illuminated. You can even rent a bike and ride through the streets during the ciclovía nocturna for a custom Christmas light show where you choose your own Ruta Navideña.

Some monuments to look out for:

  •      Torre Colpatria in downtown Bogotá is technically always lit, but it’s a little extra special during Christmastime
  •      Centro Comercial Andino, is, if I had to guess, what the North Pole looks like with the extravagant lights, numerous displays, and winter wonderland playgrounds all around the mall
  •      Monserrate, the big white church that sits on top of one of the mountains in the Eastern Hills of Bogotá turns into a neon light show like something of a cross between Alice in Wonderland and traditional Christmas imagery
  •      The home to the biggest Christmas tree in Colombia at 51 meters with 100,000 little light bulbs: Parque El Tunal
  •      Parque Simon Bolívar
  •      In ChicóParque de la 93
  •      The nearby department of Boyacá in all its fairytale lights glory for the ultimate alumbrado experience

Step 3: Make the appropriate food and drinks

Christmas in Bogotá
© Photograph 2015 by ElEconomistaAmérica.com | Colombia

What is a holiday without good food? Around December, some of the festive dishes you’ll find are natilla, a gelatinous mixture that goes well with buñuelos, a fried ball of dough and cheese that are always readily available at any panadería (bakery), and tamales, a staple in many Latin American countries during the holidays. And to wash it all down, you have canelazo, the Colombian version of a hot toddy with aguardiente; it’s the perfect drink for a chilly December evening in Bogotá. To be fair, you can find canelazo being sold on the streets year-round, but it just tastes like it was meant to be a holiday drink, and nothing says “Christmas” like a hot, spiced, alcoholic drink to awaken that Christmas spirit.

Step 4: Enjoy the holidays by celebrating with friends

Christmas in Bogotá
© Photograph 2017 by Rachel Arrieta

Part of being an expat is living far away from your family that you might normally spend the holidays with. Even if they can’t be with you to experience Christmas the Colombian way, you certainly won’t be without good company to help you celebrate! If your Colombian friends haven’t already invited you over, you can have them over to show you what this time of year is all about! Host your own Novena, a Catholic tradition and a good excuse to gather everyone to eat and, wait for it…sing Christmas carols (in Spanish, of course)! Have them teach you how to play the very abstract game of Aguinaldos, or about the agüeros of New Year’s Eve that will bring good luck in 2019. It’s okay to be a little sad if you’re not home for Christmas, but you won’t be sad for very long with all the Christmas events and activities!

There isn’t a dark corner in Bogotá during December; all the pretty lights and Christmas trees make that impossible. Festivity and holiday cheer is abundant and the Grinch himself would have a hard time not cracking a smile. Some of the displays you’ll see are enough to make you cringe at how much they’re probably paying for the electric bill, but that doesn’t last long because it’s all so mesmerizing that you fall right back into their world of Christmas magic oblivion. At first, it might feel overwhelming, but overdone? Never. Only a Scrooge would say that.

For other articles about Christmas traditions in Bogotá read about Ruta Navideña, how to prepare for this celebration as an expat, the Holy Innocents Day, and Niño Dios vs. Santa Claus.

Know of any cool light spots in the city? Post your pictures in the comments! If you like what you’re reading, follow my articles on www.colture.co to get notifications when I post new ones!  You can also subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for all things Bogotá related.

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