Why Do Colombians Light Candles on December 7? – Day of the Little Candles in Colombia

Little Candles Day in Colombia

On the night of December 7, Colombia’s windows, balconies, and sidewalks come alive in one of the country’s neatest traditions.

It is the Noche de las Velitas, literally the “Night of the Little Candles” in English, sometimes also called the Día de las Velitas, which translates to Day of the Little Candles or Little Candles Day.

Colombia’s day of the candles tradition is connected to the Catholic holy day of the Immaculate Conception, which is on December 8, a day after the night of the little candles on December 7 and a holiday.

The night before, when Colombians all around the country light candles in honor of the Virgin Mary is one of the neatest Colombia Christmas traditions.

Read on to learn more about the Noche de las Velitas, the history behind it, and how this neat candles day in Colombia is celebrated.

Night of the candles, traditional Colombian celebration

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Why is December 8 a holiday in Colombia?

December 8 is a public holiday in Colombia.

The holiday celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

This dogma of the Roman Catholic Church holds that the Virgin Mary was free from original sin.

The doctrine of original sin holds that all humanity shares in the sin of Adam and Eve and have impulses towards evil. In particular, the sin of sexual lust is closely associated with the idea of original sin.

The tradition of lighting candles on December 7 dates to the declaration of the Immaculate Conception as official Catholic Church doctrine in 1854.

The idea of the Immaculate Conception holds that Mary was herself not conceived through sexual intercourse between her mother Anne and father Joachim, who were believed to be infertile but through an act of God.

Through this act, God also gave Mary his grace and ensured she was free from the original sin passed down by Adam.

In this sense, she was elevated to a figure of innocence like Eve before eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.

This idea was made official Roman Catholic dogma by a Papal Bull known as the Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. Some Orthodox Catholic Churches, like the Ethiopian Church also accept it, while others do not.

Portrait of Pope Pius IX, who declared the Immaculate Conception, celebrated with the Day of the Little Candles, church doctrine.
Pope Pius IX.

Holding a feast day in honor of the Virgin Mary possibly dates to as far back as the 7th Century.

During medieval times, a debate arose among Catholic scholars over whether Mary was free of original sin.

They agreed that she was free from personal sin, a doctrine established by the Council of Trent in the 1500s, but there was debate whether or not she carried the legacy of Adam and Eve’s fall or not.

Some Catholics, and practically all Protestants, considered a celebration of her birth to be one celebrating sin if she was conceived by normal means.

By the 16th century, the belief that Mary’s conception was free form sin had become popularly accepted by many Catholics, although debate still continued among scholars and church officials.

Painting of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated in Dia de Velitas, showing a woman surrounded by babies and clouds.
Painting depicting the Immaculate Conception.

In 1849, Pius published an encyclical polling bishops on the issue, and the overwhelming majority agreed that Mary’s conception was indeed immaculate.

Therefore, December 8th is celebrated around the Catholic world, with Colombia being no exception.

However, Colombia has a unique tradition of lighting candles the night before, and Día de las Velitas in Colombia, or perhaps more aptly named Noche de las Velitas, is often considered the kick off to the Christmas season as well as one of the neater things to see in Colombia in December.

Photo of 2 candles burning on Día de las Velitas in Colombia
La Noche or Día de las Velitas is celebrated on the night of December 7 with people lighting candles in honor of the Virgin Mary.

What is Día de las Velitas or Day of the Little Candles?

In anticipation of the declaration of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, Catholics around the world lit candles. That means the first Noche de Velitas was a worldwide event, not just a Colombian tradition.

However, the Colombian Catholic Church continued to promote it in subsequent years, and effecitively made the celebration an annual tradition in Colombia.

On the Noche de las Velitas, people around Colombia light colorful candles and place them on sidewalks, balconies, and windowsills in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Photo of a girl lighting a candle on the Día de las Velitas in Colombia.
Susana lighting some candles on our balcony on the Night of the Candles in Cartagena.

Different cities have slightly different traditions and ways of celebrating the night of the candles.

Some tend to light the candles earlier in the evening on December 7, others only after midnight.

Regardless, it is one of the top Colombia holiday traditions and all around the country, you will see candles lit on the Night of the Candles in Colombia.

It is also common for people to celebrate with friends and family, often times partying late into the night (the next day is a holiday after all).

The next day, it is common for people to hang white flags in honor of the Virgin Mary as well.

Photo of candles burning like they might during the night of the the dia de las velitas colombia
Expect to see lots of candles lit around town in Cartagena and elsewhere in the country on the night of the Día de las Velitas in Colombia.

In Cartagena, most people will wait until after midnight to light their candles as their celebrations are winding down.

Lots of candles are lit along the sidewalks as well. In fact, you’ll likely see the wax for a couple weeks after the Día de las Velitas inside the Walled City and in most of the city’s barrios.

The date is usually considered the official start of Christmas celebrations, and Cartagena’s Christmas lights are usually inaugurated on the Día de las Velitas or the weekend before, depending on what day of the week December 7 falls.

While family celebrations are common, it is also a popular night for people to go out dancing and partying with friends, at least in Cartagena, and people will often debut or estrenar their new December digs and outfits for the Día de las Velitas.

Photo of candles burning during the Día de las Velitas Colombia.
The candles lit on the night of December 7 is a unique and fun tradition to see in Colombia.

The Noche de las Velitas really is a neat Colombia holiday tradition. Lots of people remember it as a fun and cherished childhood tradition and keep it alive today. Susana always makes sure to light here candles.

If the following day falls on a workday, it is also a nice midweek holiday and day off.

While religious in origin, it is celebrated by the devout and not so devout as well.

So if you live here or happen to be in Cartagena on the night of December 7, it’s a great night to go out on the town, and see the candles later in the night.

Photo of a candle on December 7 in Colombia next to a Christmas ornament.
Lighting candles on December 7 is without a doubt a fun way to kick off the Christmas season and participate in a fun Colombian tradition.

On the day and days leading up to Día de las Velitas, you can also pick up candles from street vendors and in most little tiendas around town if you want to light a few of your own! It’s a nice way to kick off the Christmas season and participate in a Colombian tradition.

There you have it, a short history of the Día de las Velitas in Colombia and some tips for what to expect during this Colombia Christmas tradition. I hope you enjoyed it and enjoy lighting some candles of your own!

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?

Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kathleen Bertier

    We are right here in Cartagena for the Dia de las Velidas and have enjoyed the candles as well as the hundreds of horses walking and galloping in the streets. Festive music 🎶. dancing & singing people in the streets… what an unforgettable experience!

    1. Adam McConnaughhay

      That’s awesome Kathleen! We are actually out of the country for a wedding, but my wife Susana made sure to light our candles haha. Glad you are loving Cartagena!!!

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