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Día del amor y la amistad: Colombia’s take on Valentine’s Day

Amor y amistad day
María Montes

María Montes

I'm a social anthropologist working in marketing and I'm passionate about food, traveling to big cities and dogs. I like being that person everyone comes for recommendations especially if it is in Bogotá, a city I love dearly and where I been living intermittently for over 12 years. Instagram: @mariaisaturtle

Forget about Valentine’s Day; here’s why Día del Amor y la Amistad is a much better celebration of love, family, and friendship. 

Colombia is a country with many holidays and celebrations of its own, and while Valentine’s Day is celebrated in most countries on the 14th of February and it has a very romantic connotation for couples, here in Colombia, we believe that love goes beyond that. hat’s why we celebrate “el Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship), where not only your significant other receives gifts and all the attention, but also family and friends become part of this big love party full of presents, hugs, and nice words.

What is Día del Amor y la Amistad?

This holiday is celebrated on the third Saturday of September (this year, it will be on the 20th of September to be more precise) and it’s a tradition in which friends, colleagues, couples and acquaintances express their gratitude, love, and affection. In most of the countries around the world, the date that celebrates love is on the 14th of February and is well know as Valentine’s Day. This particular date is celebrated as a commemoration of an Italian Catholic priest, who, in the third century, used to secretly marry lovers, which was forbidden. In Colombia, this date is different, and unfortunately for those in love with romantic stories, this has nothing to do with it. It was changed here back in 1969 by the merchants guild who argued that moving this date to September would boost the economy and generate bigger sales.

Getting ready to play Secret Friend like a local 

One of the main traditions on this day is to play “amigo secreto” (secret friend), which has the same dynamics of the well-known Secret Santa game played in many countries around Christmas, but with some Colombian twists. Kids at school, big families, and many workplaces play the game in which you have to select someone’s name randomly from a bag and buy them a gift to be given during the agreed dates. What is the twist? Well, we are quite extra here in Colombia, so if you happen to play secret friend here, prepare to receive a daily candy with notes on your desk from the person who drew your name (keep in mind that this is also expected from you). You may also be asked to submit a list of options of gifts you want to receive and you can even bring some food to be shared the day of the gift exchange. 

Two things can happen on the day of the gift exchange. If you got someone’s name out of the bag, you only give them the present and wait for yours. But, if you were told in advance to bring a present that is suitable for both men or women, two things can happen. The first is that all presents get put in a pile in the center of the room and you pick whichever one you fancy and walk away with your gift. The second option is that right after you pick yours, you will  be asked to open it in front of everybody, and another person in the group will have the opportunity to “steal” your present, leaving you with the awkward question of “should I steal somebody else’s present or should I pick another one from the pile?”

I know the second option sounds very confusing. It is called “Regalo Robado” (stolen gift) and it’s a variation of the traditional gift exchange. It might seem unfair, but it’s way more fun to play. Once you have a local explaining the game in real-time and their own “strategies” with you, you will get the idea and probably walk away with the best gift of the day! If this explanation gets you more confused, you can check the different rules and types of a secret friend here.

Valentine's day Colombia
Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

What to expect from this date?

Expect to eat a lot of sweets, carbs, and go out a lot, because, in Colombia, any date is the perfect excuse to go out and party. If you happen to have a significant other here in Colombia, you might be safe to plan a romantic getaway, a dinner, or at least buy a present or dedicate a song (here is a list of romantic music that can get you inspired). 

Also, expect to get creative with the gift purchase with the budget given, but don’t worry about sticking to it precisely. Here in Colombia, we are very generous, so don’t worry if you went over your budget for a couple of thousand pesos; I bet your secret friend will love that.   

If you happen to be playing secret friend at your workplace or at school and you haven’t built enough rapport with the colleague that you got, I recommend you go for beauty items, as they always go well with everybody, or gift cards from department stores, like Falabella, or places like H&M. You can also go to a mall and get something there. I personally recommend Unicentro. Also, if you happen to have some spare time, you can stick around for one of the shows they put together for these dates or you can go to the mall nearest to you and enjoy those events, as they are everywhere.

If you happen to forget about the present or want to get some last-minute gift for a special person, try ordering it via Rappi. This app offers special deals during these dates and is famously known for saving more than one relationship. Just keep in mind that this date and the game is kind of a big deal for many Colombians, so make an effort to get something nice or meaningful. When I was in school, someone gave me a lantern and it kind of put me off from this game for quite some time. So don’t be a secret friend “Grinch,” and get out there and invest time and thoughts on a nice present.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you get for people; they will always understand if you don’t know them well enough and will appreciate the gesture anyway. I will tell you to expect to feel loved, but not like the corny Valentine’s Day love that you see in the movies. Here in Colombia, this date is a celebration of gratitude, happiness, and all those amazing things that make us special to the ones around us. It’s about giving and enjoying life with your friends, your family, and your significant other. 

Did you like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media for more and less touristy information about Bogotá. Share your thoughts with me and follow my articles on www.colture.com.  

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