The Day of the Little Candles or Little Candles’ Night is celebrated each year on 7th December. This is observed as a traditional holiday in Colombia. The festival begins at sunset on 7th December and ends at sunrise on 8th December. The celebration is all about the eve of Immaculate Conception and 8th December marks unofficially as the start of the Christmas Season in Colombia.
People place paper lanterns and candles on their windowsills on this particular night. The candles and lanterns are also placed on porches, balconies, streets, sidewalks, squares and parks. Everywhere you turn, you will be able to see these candles and lanterns. They are placed to honour Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. It is a traditional ritual on 8th December for all houses in Colombia to hoist white flags with the Virgin’s image and this flag is made to fly all day long. Numerous events are held on this day, ranging from competitions to firework displays.
Homes, landmarks and tombs in cemeteries are illuminated on the eve of 8th December to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception as a mark of respect to honour the maternity of Virgin Mary and also to bring in the holiday season as a grand welcome. This festival is given high importance in Colombia.
A little history of this festival
Celebration of the Little Candles’ Night in Colombia dates back to 7th December one hundred and sixty three years ago. On this date, Pope Pius IX made distinct as dogma Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception and published it as `Ineffabilis Deus’ as an Apostolic constitution. People were excited in anticipation of this big decision and lit paper lanterns and candles as a sign of support of this spiritual idea. Colombia’s Catholic Church kept this celebration alive since 1854 and has made it an annual festival of lighting the candles on 7th December’s night.
What are the traditions associated with this festival?
In Colombia, traditions concerning the Day of the Little Candles vary in each city and region. The Catholic traditions of the colonialists when they used candle light in honour of celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception were combined with the Quimbaya tribe’s beliefs that the effect of fire from the candle light protected them against the panther and puma attacks. Panthers and pumas are afraid of flickering flames and fire. These native beliefs and Catholic religious traditional beliefs were linked. It is still quite common as an occurrence today when people display the panther’s or the puma’s symbol in sculpture form or in terra cotta in combination with candle lighting on the eve of 8th December.
In the capital city of Bogota, the decorations for the Christmas season reach a peak on this particular day. The city is grandly decorated and activities are planned for families to take part in. Several streets are closed down to allow pedestrian traffic to move freely so that they can admire the lights and their arrangements. Stores, museums and shopping malls extend their operating hours to accommodate people who are in a festive mood. On the morning of 8th December, devout Catholics will wake up early, much before sunrise and take in the atmosphere of the lit candles before they are extinguished at the time of sunrise. People flock around several public neighbourhoods and regions to prepare for the festivities not only of this day but of the whole holiday season head of them.