Novenas: best way to eat, pray, love (& sing) on Christmas


It was 2008 when I participated in a Novena for the first time in Bogotá. Since that moment, this tradition has captured my heart because of what it does: make people closer.

Ten years ago, I came to Bogotá with my family to spend Christmas and New Year. Although I already knew some of the Colombian traditions related to the season because my parents kept them in Venezuela, I found out there were some I didn’t know. The Novena was one of them and, I must say, it was an amazing discovery.

What is a Novena?

A Novena de Aguinaldos is a Catholic custom that celebrates and reminds us that the son of God wanted to become a man, how Mary and Joseph made the journey to Bethlehem, and that baby Jesus was finally born.

It starts on December 16 and ends on December 24. Over nine days, people say prayers, read short texts about relevant events related to the birth of Jesus, and make different requests to the Holy Child that are best known as gozos (joys).

During all these rituals, people sing certain Catholic and Christmas songs that make the Novena a happy celebration! When it ends, people usually have some of the traditional Colombian food of the season: torta negra (black cake), natilla (a type of dessert based on milk), and buñuelos (a fried ball made of flour and cheese).

My first Novena

My mom’s relatives invited us to have dinner on Christmas Eve during our 2008 vacation in Bogotá. When we arrived, my sister and I found out that:

  • There was something called Novena.
  • That night will be the last Novena of the year.
  • We were going to be praying and singing.

I’m not a Catholic but I was up for the challenge! They printed the prayers and gozos for us. Each of us picked one and read it. I did it well but had some trouble pronouncing the word prosternado (prostrate). If you are learning Spanish and are worried about how to pronounce that word, please don´t! I used it for the first time that day and have only used it three more times reading that gozo during the Novena.

I have understood, since that day, that the Novena is really important, not just for its religious symbolism, but because it gathers people during an important time of the year. Even for non-Catholic people like me, it’s a chance to get closer to the ones you love. Just because of that, it’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions here in Bogotá.

Although you normally celebrate the Novena with your family, you can also do it with your friends, coworkers, or even your neighbors. Since I’m a Novena enthusiast, I’ve done it all!

You can do it!

You don’t have to wait until someone invites you to their home to have the whole Novena experience. Although it’s nice to be introduced to the tradition by a Colombian family, you can plan your own Novena at home. Here are some recommendations:

  • Print the prayers for all days and the text dedicated to the specific day you’ll be inviting your friends. You can find them here.
  • Reading a Novena is a good way to practice your Spanish pronunciation, so pick your part and do it. Remember: don’t worry if you have trouble with the word prosternado… it happens to everyone and it’s not a big deal!
  • Don’t forget the food! Prepare your own natilla (there are several brands and flavours and it’s really easy to make), order buñuelos through any delivery app (they are incredibly hard to make so this is the best option, believe me), and buy some wine for your friends. If you want to have some extra non-traditional food such as pizza or chicken wings, no one will complain.
  • Create a Novena playlist. You have to include some popular songs such as “Ven a Nuestras Almas” (Come to our Souls) – this one is for the gozos -, “Los Peces en el Río” (The Fish in the River), “Tutaina,” and my favorite one, “Mi Burrito Sabanero” (The Little Donkey from the Savannah).

If you don’t feel like hosting your own Novena, but want to know more about it, I’ll give you a tip:

many malls such as Santa Barbara or Cafam Floresta organize them too. Everyone can go and it will give you an idea of this beautiful tradition.

Have you been to a Novena? Tell me your experience and what you think about this tradition. Do you want to organize your Novena and need more recommendations? Tell me how I can help you in the comments section below!

Keep visiting Colture for more information on other nice plans you can make during Christmas!

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