December 8 is the Catholic holy day of the Immaculate Conception, and a national holiday.  The night before it is celebrated with the tradition of the Noche de las Velitas, or Night of Candles, celebrated the night before December 8.  People around the country light candles in honor of the Virgin Mary.  Read on to learn more about the Noche de las Velitas and how it is celebrated.

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.  Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Why is December 8 a holiday in Colombia?

December 8 is a public holiday in Colombia.  The holiday celebrates the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ.  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.  Under church doctrine, baptism erases original sin and gives children the grace of god.

The idea of the Immaculate Conception holds that upon acting on and impregnating the Virgin Mary, God also gave her his grace and erased her original sin as if she had been baptized.  This idea was made official Catholic dogma by a Papal Bull in 1854.

Why Do People Light Candles on the Night of December 7 in Colombia?

Literally translated as the Night of the Little Candles (and sometimes also referred to as the day or Día de las Velitas), the Noche de las Velitas, is celebrated the night of December 7 on the eve of the Immaculate Conception.  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.

The tradition dates to the declaration of the Immaculate Conception made by Pope Pius IX in 1854.  After the declaration, Catholic around the world lit candles.  The Colombian Catholic Church made the celebration an annual tradition.

Different cities have slightly different traditions and ways of celebrating.  Some tend to light the candles earlier in the evening, others only after midnight.  Regardless, 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, it is common for people to hang white flags in honor of the Virgin Mary as well.

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

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 afterward 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 or around the day.

While family celebrations are common, it is also a popular night for people to go out dancing.

The Noche de las Velitas is a neat tradition.  If the following day falls on a workday, it is also a nice 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 or even light your own candles later in the night.

Cheers and Happy Exploring!

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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

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