For our first Christmas in El Retiro, a small town perched high in the Andes above the big city of Medellín, we want to share a few of our favorite Colombian holiday traditions.

The Alumbrados

Colombia, and Medellin in particular, is world-renowned for its dazzling displays of Christmas lights – alumbrados in Spanish. But it’s not just the big cities that go all out with the alumbrados – the small towns also get in on the act, in a major way. Here’s El Retiro’s take on this fantastic tradition (just click through to see a larger version of each photo).

Las Velitas

A Colombian Christmas tradition we’ve come to love is the Dia de las Velitas (Day of Little Candles) on Dec. 7, the eve of the Immaculate Conception. You’ll see scores of families and friends gathered in parks and in front of their houses and businesses to light candles, share food and drink, play music, and enjoy each other’s company. Last year, when we were still living in Medellin, the celebration was pretty subdued because of the pandemic. This year, we were thrilled to see El Retiro citizens go all out with the velitas, setting the town aglow with countless candles and lanterns in windows and on door stoops. It reminds me a bit of the southwestern custom of luminarias that I grew up with in West Texas.

Buñuelos y Natilla

Available year-round, buñuelos are one of our favorite street foods. These little fried balls of corn meal and cheese are just as delicious as they sound, especially if they’re fresh, hot, and drizzled with honey (yum!).

In December, buñuelos are paired with natilla, a sweet custard that sometimes includes grated coconut, for a treat that just says “Christmas” to Colombians.

natilla_1200x ¡Feliz Navidad! Christmas in El Retiro Colombia
Photo credit: Chatica.co
We’re feeling a little wistful this Christmas.

As we write this, several close friends have told us they have tested positive for Covid-19 (almost certainly the Omicron variant), and others are isolating with flu-like symptoms. No one’s seriously ill, gracias a Díos, and we’re both safe and healthy. But more than ever, we’re reflecting on just how fleeting life is, and how precious. We have no idea what’s in store next for the human race, but all we can do is be hopeful that 2022 is the year we finally get the upper hand on this terrible virus.

To our friends, family, and subscribers, we say THANK YOU for reading our blog and supporting us this year – and we wish you all a safe, healthy, and peaceful Christmas!

20210917_090504 ¡Feliz Navidad! Christmas in El Retiro Colombia

Holiday Hugs from John, Susan, and Los Perritos, Rosie y Tango!

47 Comments

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Igualmente, querido amigo, y abrazos a ti y Mariah! 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Same back to you, Kirk, your kids and grandkids, Julie! Happy New Year!

  1. Penny Tracey Reply

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you guys! We have been enjoying your posts about your travels in Colombia! We loved the Christmas lights in Medellin and had forgotten about the little candles. We are celebrating our first Christmas in our new home in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina…a beautiful area that we are still exploring.
    Hugs, Penny and Bill

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Penny! So glad you two are happy and settled in North Carolina. Do you think you’ll ever try the expat life again? Merriest of Christmases to you and Bill!
      All the best,
      Susan and John

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Donna! Same right back ‘atcha 🙂
      xx back, Susan

  2. Wonderful traditions! You encourage us to get our butts down there as soon as possible! I love all your photos – the bright lights and especially the one at the top and bottom. Happy holidays to all of you, too, Susan, John, Rosie, y Tango!! Xxx

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Rebecca! Happiest of holidays to you 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, dear Janis! Hoping you and your family are having a lovely holiday season 🙂
      – John and Susan

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Henry! Don’t you just love the alumbrados? We weren’t expecting them to be so grand here in El Retiro. Happiest of holidays back to you from John and me!

  3. Wonderful post! Lovely light fidplay and so fun to read on the traditions for this time of year. Heres hoping all good things for you and your family in the new year 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, and all the same back to you and yours. New Year’s hugs!

  4. Love all those lights and it’s also interesting to know what Colombians usually eat during this festive season. Happy holidays to both of you! Wishing us all for a better and more hopeful new year ahead.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Bama! All the best of the season and a wonderful New Year to you and your family.

  5. Beautiful lights and Christmas displays. We were in Colombia for Las Velitas two years a go. Now it’s one of my favourite memories. Feliz Navidad. Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Aren’t the velitas beautiful? One of my favorite things about Christmas in Colombia, too. Feliz Navidad back to you 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed this post – the Christmas lights look fun, and I think the day of the little candles is just beautiful. I agree about thinking more to the future and how fleeting life is – all we can do is make the most of our time here 🙂 Feliz Navidad

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So true! Living in the moment is really hard for travelers, I think. We’re always thinking about the next trip, the next place we want to visit – what’s down the road. But Covid has made that so challenging. Anyway, here’s wishing you a lovely New Year! 🙂

  7. How beautiful and festive are the Christmas lights! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and enjoying the last days of this (another difficult) year … may 2022 be the one we are all wishing for!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, and the same back to you both! Here’s to better days and a fabulous 2022!

  8. Lovely Christmas displays. That coconut custard looks amazing…even after all the food I’ve consumed the last few days. Happy New Year!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Caroline! I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of natilla – it’s super sweet. But it’s all part of the season! Happy New Year to you too 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, querida amiga! All the best of the holidays back to you and Kevin. Here’s to a better and brighter New Year!

  9. The Christmas lights are gorgeous! And I love the Las Velitas tradition – how delightful!
    So sorry to hear of your friends. Omicron really is brutal – sooooo contagious. I hope they all pull through. Glad to hear you two are ok.
    Wishing you all the best for the new year. May 2022 be better!
    Alison xo 💕

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Alison! 2022 WILL be better, I can feel it in my bones! And likewise, we wish you and Don a 2022 filled with everything wonderful. Feliz Año!

  10. Yeah! For the first time you mention a place I know about. A friend lived in Medellin…
    This is, indeed, a scary time. The wave of COVID cases here has been alarming. All we can do is hope for 2022 to be better for us all. Take care and enjoy each day. All the best, Muriel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Muriel! Scary times indeed. Cases are now on the rise again, here in Colombia. We’re hoping Omicron goes like it has in some other countries, peaking fast then declining rapidly. I DO think 2022 will be a great year – we just have to get through this crazy new time. Here’s hoping you have a fabulous 2022 filled with everything you love! Hugs, Susan

  11. ¡Feliz Navidad! I love your pictures; it reminds me of Christmas in Mexico. I like your optimism for the year 2022. I agree with you, if there is one thing I learned in the last two years is how fleeting life is and how precious. I wish you a year full of health and many exciting travels!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      ¡Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo a ti, Liz! And the same back to you – hope you and your family have a fabulous and fulfilling 2022. Abrazos!

      • Thank you for reading my post Susan, I wish you a fabulous New Year as well!!! I really enjoy your blog posts 😊

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