The sound of music: Colombian Christmas instruments to play

Colombian Christmas Instruments

Christmas is the best time to have fun. And among all the lights, presents, and food, there’s also the music! Christmas carols (villancicos) are a must during the holidays, and in Bogotá (or anywhere in Colombia), it’s no exception. Be prepared to deliver the most wonderful concerts with the coolest Colombian Christmas instruments you’ll find during the holidays!

Nothing beats the sound of music at Christmas; every Colombian knows that. When I was little, my mother used to bring me these cool maracas so I could sing and play along with the Christmas carols (read our article Villancicos: Christmas songs to listen to in December).

And I’m pretty sure that most of the kids in this country enjoy doing the same thing during the holidays. In Colombia, we let our spirits fly with the magic of this time of the year and there’s no denying that is partly because of the wonderful melodies we hear and share with our loved ones. Therefore, Colombians are very enthusiastic about participating in Christmas carols with guitars, maracas, or tambourines and it’s even common for children to make their own musical instruments as well.

Top five coolest musical instruments we play at Christmas

  1. Maracas:

© Photograph by

They are very traditional in Latin Music and a must for Christmas! Most studies agree that the maraca came from the indigenous tribes in Latin America. Maracas are basically made up of a spherical part and a handle that adheres to it. Inside, they have small percussive elements such as stones, seeds, pieces of glass, rice, etc. Maracas are the easiest instruments to play, and everyone can do it (even babies get a maraca as one of the first toys to play with). Just shake them (one in each hand) with all your energy and passion according to the rhythm!  

  1. Cascabel:

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The Colombian jingle bells (a rattle basically). It’s a small metallic sphere with a little opening, and on the inside, it has a smaller sphere. The sound is produced by the clash between the two. The cascabel is an indispensable part of any villancico and you can find it either with a wooden stick attached to hold it or with a wooden bracelet of sorts to wear it. And, like the other instruments I mention here, it doesn’t require any practice or special skill, making it perfect for anyone at any age. The cascabel definitely sounds and feels like Christmas!

  1. Pequeño tambor:

Colombian Christmas Instruments
© Photograph by DealeXtreme

This type of drum is one of the instruments that attract children the most at Christmas. Coming straight from African ancestors, the tambor (or tambour), besides being very popular, is also a crucial part of Latin music. Singing Christmas carols with a little drum is a necessary experience for any child! The tambor is very easy to play and you can actually do it with your hands or with the drumsticks. If you do not have one at home, you can make it with recycled materials. Many people consider the tambor to be a musical instrument that lights up the soul and truth is, you feel the sound and the rhythm within you!

  1. Pandereta:

Colombian Christmas Instruments
© Photograph by

I mean, who doesn’t have one at their house? Villancicos without a pandereta (tambourine) are like Christmas without lights. Its popular use can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt and even Mozart used it (yep, you heard right!). Panderetas are probably one of the easiest instruments ever to play (just hold it in your hand and tap it) and they are usually made of a plastic or wood frame with several pairs of small metal pieces that simulate the sound of a jingle bell. You can never go wrong with a pandereta at Christmas!

  1. Armónica:

Colombian Christmas Instruments
© Photograph by

I think this one makes such a beautiful sound! The armónica (or harmonica) is a small musical instrument that is played with the mouth by blowing into holes in its side. They produce sound from the vibration of the reeds in the metal casing. The armónica was first invented in China a few thousand years ago and it’s quite easy to play. It’s also a great addition to the “orquesta” when singing villancicos. Armónicas are definitely a must for the holiday festivities!

Bonus: Aplausos!

Colombian Christmas Instruments
© Photograph by rawpexel

Yes, clapping is the easiest, but most iconic instrument to play at Christmas! And you don’t have to find it or make it because it’s a part of you! If we don’t happen to have any of the instruments I named above, guess what we do? We clap with the rhythm while we sing and it’s a wonderful experience!

Most of the instruments I named above are quite easy to make in your very own house and with simple materials. In fact, part of their charm is the hand-crafted appearance they typically have. If you want to learn how to make some of these you can watch the following Youtube videos :

I dare to say that we all had one of these Colombian Christmas instruments when we were little, or there’s at least one in every single Colombian home at Christmas. We usually play them on Christmas Eve and during Novenas to light up the atmosphere (read our articles Novenas: best way to eat, pray, love (& sing) on Christmas and The 5 Colombian Christmas foods you have to try in December to know more).

The raison d’etre  (reason itself) of these instruments is basically based on the human and spontaneous need to make music with the things we have at hand and at the moment. Within the villancicos, there’s creativity and enthusiasm for good times with good people. And this are definitely two of the best traits Colombians have. Make some noise and Merry Christmas!

Was this article useful? Do you know other cool stuff about Colombian Christmas instruments? Or maybe an experience you would like to share? Please share and/or comment on this article, and visit our homepage Colture to take a look at my articles and many others to find more essential information about Bogotá before and during your trip.

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