Christmas in Colombia is not like Christmas in other places.
In the US and Europe, for example, Christmas is a subdued, family-oriented holiday. And while the family is certainly the center of the Christmas season in Colombia, the overall vibe is a bit more…active.
And by ‘active’ I mean fireworks, aguardiente (an anise-flavored liquor made from distilled sugar cane), parties, lights, the works. Christmas is not a time of quiet reflection in Colombia. It’s a boisterous, exuberant celebration.
One of the most distinct features of Christmastime in Colombia is the alumbrado, the typical display of bright, colorful lights that adorns plazas and homes all over the world. But here in Colombia, the lights can be a bit unusual.
But the Colombian alumbrados aren’t just famous for their vibrant colors and evocative imagery – there are deep-seated and controversial traditions that have seeped into the Christmas celebration that, to us, might seem a bit odd.
There’s no better example of this than then Diablito of Riosucio. A tradition with roots in the indigenous celebrations of pre-Colombian Colombia, the little devil is – according to his many defenders – not associated with the Christian depiction of Satan and, therefore, not a blasphemous or heretical icon.
Of course, for a celebration that supposedly has nothing to do with traditional depictions of Satan, the Diablito of Riosucio sure looks an awful lot like tradition depictions of Satan. This undeniable similarity has landed the Diablito in hot water with the good people of Medellín, who last year insisted that the Diablito be taken down. This year, he’s back, albeit with some signage to better explain his significance.
It might seem strange for the Diablito to have caused such a stir in Medellín – but let’s not forget that, as well as being a highly Catholic country, Medellín is a city that takes its lights quite seriously. In total, this year’s Christmas display features over 28 million lights and 30,000 different figures spread throughout the city. Medellín recently won an award for having the best Christmas display of any city in Latin America. It’s a pretty big deal.
There are some pretty striking differences in the way that Colombians celebrate Christmas. First and foremost, while Santa-related imagery abounds, Colombians actually believe that it’s the infant Christ who delivers presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world. Personally, I find the notion that baby Jesus delivers our gifts to be theologically unsound – after all, Christ was born to bring salvation, not LEGOS and Barbie dolls. But I digress.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without food, and Colombia is no exception. Popular at Christmas time is the buñuelo (a cheesy fried-dough treat served hot) and natilla (a kind of gelatinous eggnog). Being from the South, I’m open to basically anything excessively sweet and/or deep-fried, so both of these choices are fine by me.
Another holiday tradition worth mentioning is the año viejo, a hand-made effigy of stuffed clothing and other accoutrements, which at midnight on New Year’s Eve is ceremoniously set on fire and burned. Fire and fireworks seem to be running themes in Colombian celebrations – not what you might expect, but fun nonetheless.
A Farmfolio Christmas
Although I can’t say there’s been much aguardiente this Christmas, the holiday spirit is still very much present here at Farmfolio. The annual Pietrasanta Christmas party (with Santa in attendance) was a resounding success, and Dax, Jessica, Melanio, and the rest of the team were on-hand to deliver gifts and holiday cheer to the children of the El Balsal township.
It’s a rewarding experience to give something back to the families who work so hard for us. At the end of the day, for all of the effort that we put into identifying and establishing our projects, we couldn’t do it without the help of our great farm workers and other staff.
The Christmas party at Pietrasanta is a time for us to stop and reflect on the transformative effect that the project has had on the surrounding region. As many of you know, the Pietrasanta property was once part of the historic “La Antioquena” cattle ranch – a business that required very little in terms of permanent employees. The Pietrasanta coconut plantation employs over three times the amount of people that were needed for the cattle ranch, paving the way for lasting social change through formal, year-round job opportunities.
There’s a palpable sense of gratitude at the Pietrasanta project that goes far beyond the annual Christmas party. Together with our investors, we’ve created real social change in the El Balsal region, and Christmas is a time for us to show how thankful we are for the hard work and dedication on the part of our employees.
We always enjoy the Christmas season down here in Colombia, and we hope you and your family are enjoying the season as much as we are, wherever you happen to be. And if you’re looking for an exciting and adventurous trip next year, don’t skip out on Colombia! We all love it here, and you will too.
From all of us at Farmfolio, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!