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Colombia’s Christmas Prayer Unites Families


Colombian Christmas Novena
Novena de Aguinaldos, a tradition observed from December 16 to 24, is an important part of the Colombian Christmas festivities. credit: Flickr – Politécnico Grancolombiano / CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Colombia, known for its rich cultural traditions, celebrates the Christmas season with a unique and deeply-rooted practice known as the “Christmas Advent Prayer” (Novena de Aguinaldos). This tradition, observed from December 16th to December 24th, is a significant part of the Colombian Christmas festivities and is also celebrated in neighboring countries like Venezuela and Ecuador. The “Novena de Aguinaldos” is akin to the “Posadas” in Mexico and Central America, where prayers and gatherings mark the anticipation of Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ.

Historical Roots and Culinary Traditions

The “Novena de Aguinaldos” has its origins in the early 18th century, attributed to Friar Fernando de Jesús Larrea. The tradition aims to commemorate the months leading to Jesus’s birth and his arrival in Bethlehem. It is not only a religious observance but also a time for Colombian families and communities to come together, reinforcing bonds through shared prayers and festive foods.

Manger of the birth of the baby Jesus – Credit: Flicker – Roberto Urrea / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Colombian households during this period are often filled with the aromas of traditional Christmas dishes such as fried dough balls (buñuelos), a type of custard (natillas), stuffed pastries (empanadas), steamed corn cakes (tamales), and roast pig (lechona). These culinary delights are integral to the “Novena,” adding to the warmth and communal spirit of the season.

This practice was formalized in 1743 when Priest Fernando de Jesus Larrea, upon request, penned a text specifically for the Christmas season. This text was first published in 1784 and initially comprised 52 pages. Over time, it underwent modifications for practicality and ease of use. One significant change came in 1886 when Mother Maria Ignacia, a religious figure, poet, and writer from Bogota, revised the novena, adding joyful refrains and making it more accessible to the public.

Modern Adaptations and Technological Influence

Today, the practice is a blend of tradition and modernity. It typically includes a set order of prayers, with specific considerations for each of the nine days. These prayers are directed to the Holy Virgin, Saint Joseph, and the Child Jesus, accompanied by traditional Christmas carols. The novena’s structure allows for both reflection and celebration, encapsulating the spiritual and communal aspects of the Colombian Christmas.

In recent years, technology has played a role in keeping this tradition alive and vibrant. Applications like “Christmas Advent Prayer with Audio” (Novena de Aguinaldos con Audio) offer a digital platform for the novena, complete with audio prayers, carols, and even recipes for traditional Christmas dishes. These technological advancements have made the “Novena” more accessible, especially to younger generations and Colombians living abroad, ensuring that this cherished tradition continues to thrive and evolve.

This practice remains a cornerstone of Colombian Christmas celebrations, embodying the country’s devotion, familial bonds, and joyous spirit during the holiday season.

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