For Christmas in Colombia, You’ll Need an Año Viejo Doll

Christmas in Colombia isn’t only a time of celebration. It’s also a time of illumination—candles, electric lights, and even the dancing flames of a burning año viejo doll.

While it might seem shocking, burning a sort of effigy in the streets is a tradition in both Colombia and Ecuador.

We asked Sara María Gómez Rivera, a native Colombian, to tell us about it. The año viejo doll “represents some aspect of the political situation of the country or something from the past year that the person wants to leave behind.”

Read on for Sara’s telling of Christmas in Colombia, then see how Slovakians spend the holiday.

Christmas in Colombia

Profile: Sara María Gómez Rivera

Sara María was born and raised in Colombia. In addition to Spanish, she speaks American English and Brazilian Portuguese.

  • “Merry Christmas” in Spanish: Felíz Navidad

  • “Happy New Year”: Felíz Año Nuevo

  • “Happy Holidays”: Felices Fiestas


Christmas in Colombia involves many traditions. On Christmas Eve, families gather near el pesebre (the nativity scene) to pray the Christmas novena and sing Christmas carols.

After that, kids get presents from Papá Noel (Santa Claus) at midnight. Adults usually play el Amigo Secreto (a “Secret Santa” game) and exchange presents that night.


Everybody then has dinner. Dinner includes roasted turkey with plum sauce, rice, different types of salads, and fruit.

There are also traditional sweet dishes like manjar blanco (sweet milk) and natilla (a type of flan). We also eat buñuelos (fried balls made of corn flour and cheese) and desamargado (preserved citrus fruits that are no longer acidic).


Adults drink wine or sangría (a Spanish beverage made of wine and chopped fruit).

Christmas in Colombia includes manjar blanco (shown here) and an año viejo doll

A dish called manjar blanco (center) is a favorite at Christmas in Colombia.

Putting the Past Behind You with an Año Viejo Doll

One special New Year’s tradition is that families make rag dolls called año viejo. Then they stuff them with clothes, newspapers, and gunpowder.

The año viejo dolls represent some aspect of the political situation of the country, something for a family member to joke about, or something from the past year that the person wants to leave behind. Then the dolls are burned.

Christmas in Colombia

Burning an año viejo doll for New Year’s, such as this one from a celebration in Pasto, Colombia, is a way of putting the past behind you. (Image, by Etienne Le Cocq under CC BY 3.0, has been cropped)

After that, people have dinner. It’s usually pork, chicken or turkey, rice, salad, etc. At midnight, people eat 12 grapes for luck and prosperity.

Some people run around the block carrying backpacks and luggage. Then the party continues and people dance until dawn. Some of the rhythms and styles are salsa, merengue, porro, and cumbia.

We have another tradition on December 7 called El día/La noche de las velitas, or “Day/Night of the Candles.” It celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, which is a holiday (December 8).


Lights illuminate the river in Medellín during Christmas in Colombia. (Image, by laloking97 under CC BY-SA 2.0, has been cropped)

Every family puts candles and/or paper lanterns out. They might be in front of their houses or in the windows. You also see them on balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks, and squares.

In some cities there are contests for the best house decorations or most original lanterns. Some cities, such as Cali and Medellín, illuminate their rivers.

More Reading

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