Colourful, chaotic Colombia is steeped in age-old traditions, quirky customs and unusual superstitions. A unique blend of African, European and Indigenous traditions, it’s one of the most culturally diverse countries in South America. From yellow underwear on special occasions to burning away the old year, here are a few unique traditions in Colombia that might surprise you.
Unique Traditions in Colombia
1. Yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve
You’ve probably heard of red underwear on New Year’s Eve (if not, read our handy article on New Year’s traditions in Spain) but have you heard of yellow underwear? In Colombia, you’ll find shops and market stalls selling sunshine-yellow pants in the run-up to the New Year. Traditionally, Colombians wear a brand new pair of yellow underwear to attract love and happiness the following year. To really have the best chances, you should also reverse them before midnight, then wear them the right way around after the clock strikes twelve.
2. Pot Gathering or ‘Paseos de Olla’
This much-loved tradition sees the whole family get together for a picnic at their local river to share a traditional Colombia dish – sancocho de Lena. This delicious stew is made from beef, pork or chicken with plantain, potato, corn, cassava and lots of tomatoes. Typically, each member of the family brings an ingredient for the stew. Colombians also participate in the ritual all year round to reunite the family and family friends, share successes and celebrate special occasions.
3. Festivals, festivals, festivals
It’s hardly a secret that Colombians love to party. Known as the land of a thousand rhythms, there are probably almost as many festivals too. One of the country’s best-known festivals is the Carneval – the second largest in the world. Located in Barranquilla, it’s also now UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage too. The event dates back to the 19th century and takes place over the four days before Holy Week. The whole city comes alive with street dances, masquerade parades and musical performances.
Other popular festivals include The Legends Festival in Valledubpar and the Vallenato Legends Festival, as well as Cali Fair, one of the country’s most popular annual events.
4. Burn the old year away
Quemar el Ano Viejo, which translates as ‘Burning the Old Year Doll’ is another unusual New Years’ tradition to add to the list, but this one involves a scarecrow. To mark the end of the year, Colombians create a life-sized scarecrow or doll and dress it in their old clothes. They usually stuff it with straw, but they might add some fireworks to the stuffing for some added drama. Then, they burn the doll at midnight to chase away all that negativity from the past year.
No one knows exactly where this tradition comes from, but some claim it’s a centuries-old European pagan tradition. It’s similar to the fiery Ecuadorian tradition.
5. Christmas is important in Colombia too
Christmas celebrations and preparations kick off on the evening of the 7th of December in Colombia. Known as ‘Día de las Velitas’ or ‘Day of the little Candles’, families decorate their houses with lights, candles and lanterns. There’s usually an impressive fireworks display to mark the occasion too. Then, many Colombians take part in ‘novenas’ until Christmas Eve, a
From December 16th until Christmas Eve, many Colombians take part in special prayers known as ‘novenas’ too. Like Spain and much of South America, Colombia eats their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve. Popular dishes include pork stuffed with rice and peas, ham, turkey or chicken soup.
6. Traditional remedies
It’s easy enough to get hold of painkillers in Colombia, but many swear by old ‘grandmother’s remedies’ These include spearmint teas for aches and pains, chamomile for insomnia, aloe vera for dandruff and bodied calendula for scarring. Agauapanela is one of the best-known natural Colombian remedies though. Made from concentrated cane syrup, it’s used to cure colds, sore throats and melancholy.
7. Your daughter’s 15th birthday is a VERY big deal
The Quinceañera is a celebration that dates back centuries. Rooted in Mexico, it’s now celebrated across Latin America – and Colombia is no exception. Nicknamed ‘Quince Anos’ or ‘Quinces’, it marks an important milestone in a girl’s life – her 15th birthday. It celebrates the ‘official’ moment when she can wear makeup, high heels and transition into womanhood. In Colombia, they mark this with a huge party, culminating in the Quinceañera cake.
For more details on the traditions surrounding this festival, check out these seven Quinceanera traditions