by Michael Owen
Any of us who have been in Colombia for any amount of significant time know that the number of public holidays here are astronomical. I’m honestly waiting for them to roll out a day celebrating dogs and cats! The unusually high number of holidays does bring about many positive things: days off from school, numerous three-day weekends, and travel opportunities. Recently, I was able to use one of these holidays to share some Colombian culture with some very special visitors from the United States.
At the beginning of December, I was fortunate to have my parents visit me for 10 days. Our trip, which included stops in Cartagena, Bogotá, and Panamá, would not have been complete without a visit to my site and second home, Repelón. When talking with my parents and prepping them for the trip, I warned them about the intense heat, lack of air conditioning, lack of running water, and the abundance of dirt roads that make up my town. However, all of those warnings still hit home when they arrived. I could see the level of comprehension click as we made our way around town.
The highlight of their time in the pueblo was celebrating a traditional Colombian holiday that is not celebrated in the United States. My parents just happened to be here for Día de las Velitas (Day of the Candles). The holiday is celebrated by the lighting of candles around 4 am on the morning of December 8th. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait that long to partake in the tradition. We had been invited to eat dinner at the police station with the police chief and some other cops. During dinner, someone mentioned Día de las Velitas and how in Santander (the department that the police chief is from) they light their candles around 8 pm on December 7th instead of the following morning. The next thing I knew, six packets of candles appeared on the table!
We made our way outside and proceeded to light the candles. Mel, the police chief, and Brenda, another cop, showed us the best method to get the candles to stand up. Protecting the flames from the slight breeze was a bit of a challenge, but eventually, we were able to light all sixty or so candles. Mel then filled us in on a tradition that his family practiced. Every member of the family picks a candle to monitor throughout the night. If your candle is the first one to burn out, it means you will be the first member of the family to die. He proceeded to tell me, with a wide grin and slight chuckle, that the candles that he chose never lost and were always the last ones burning.
All in all, this was an amazing experience for my parents to partake in. Not only were they able to understand a bit more of my life here in Repelón, they got to do something that they will probably never have the opportunity to repeat again. I’m looking forward to returning to the United States and continuing the Día de las Velitas tradition every year with my family and those around me.