Colombia’s New Year traditions are very different from what you’re probably used to. And thanks to this post, you’ll understand how and why they do it this way.
As far as I remember, Christmas traditions in Sydney, Australia, go something like this. You spend December stressing out about which ridiculously overpriced dance party you’ll invest all that money you should be buying presents for your family with, fight through the crowd gawking at the fireworks, get ridiculously inebriated, and, if you’re in a relationship, have a fight with your partner, or if you’re single, feel utterly depressed come midnight because you have nobody to kiss – and you have to kiss someone at midnight. Or maybe that’s just my jaded retrospect kicking in there.
Well, in Colombia, things – of course – are a little different. Of course, if you’re in one of the big cities, there are plenty of fancy clubs to get into and have a good time, but most Colombians get together in a family home.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in a Colombian house for New Year’s Eve, follow this quest.
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Since 2015, Adrien, Alejandra, and I (Tom) have been helping travelers explore Colombia. Here, you will find everything you need to fall in love with this beautiful country easily.
The Heroic Colombia New Year’s Traditions Quest
As New Year’s Eve approached in Colombia, you knew it was time for your legendary quest to guarantee a fantastic year ahead.
A week prior, you hurried to the store, buzzing with anticipation, to grab a fresh outfit, including striking yellow underwear – a strict “no wear” rule applied until the big night.
On December 31’s morning, you transformed into a cleaning whiz, banishing dust and clutter creating a sparkling sanctuary.
In the afternoon, you ventured to a nearby river for a refreshing bath, a Colombian tradition to purify the soul, emerging rejuvenated and ready for the festivities.
As evening neared, you dressed meticulously for the family gathering, pocketing cash and lentils, symbols of wealth and good fortune, with your suitcase and a bundle of wheat to put on the table.
At 11:57 p.m., the moment you arrived. You cranked up the music, “Faltan cinco pa las doce,” clutching 12 grapes, each embodying a wish. At midnight, you devoured them one by one, visions of prosperity dancing in your mind.
With the grapes in your belly, you grabbed your suitcase, initiating the sprint with your right foot, encircling your house in a whirlwind of hope.
Returning, breathless yet exhilarated, you demanded a champagne shower, as if winning the Tour de France, sporting that coveted yellow jersey (underwear in your case) symbolizing riches and fortune.
To conclude this grand journey, you ignited a doll resembling your least favorite person. As it burned, you felt closure, convinced nothing could harm you in the coming year.
With these vibrant traditions and a heart brimming with optimism, you ushered in the New Year with confidence, knowing it would overflow with joy, success, and unforgettable adventures. And so, “The Heroic New Year’s Quest” in Colombia continued a tale of colorful traditions and a bright future.
Colombian New Year’s Traditions: Explanations
Did you like my story?
Now it’s time to explain a little more about each Colombian tradition.
13# Bright Yellow Underwear
Strap them yellow undies on, kids!! Yellow, like on our beloved Colombian flag, represents gold – everybody’s favorite metal.
Wearing yellow underwear is one of Colombia’s (and Latin America’s!) best-known New Year’s traditions.
Back in the day, our ancestors in Latin America saw yellow as a symbol of new beginnings. This vibrant color represented the sun, eternal life, and vital energy to them. But that’s not all! In some cultures, yellow was like the golden ticket, symbolizing wealth and fertility.
Fast forward to today, and you’ve got a color all about success, luck, money, and abundance.
So, if you want some dollars coming your way this new year, make sure your daks are as yellow as a Civil War deserter.
And yes, you’re better off wearing a clean (and new, if possible) one than borrowing one from your cousin.
In fact, it’s a great gift to give on New Year’s Eve.
Ah, and one more thing. It’s even better to put it upside down!
12# Money in the Hand
There seems to be a lot about money in Colombian New Year Traditions. And, unless you’re some kind of stinking pinko like yours truly (from time to time), you’ll do your best to get on board. Another way to ensure you’ve got cashola for the upcoming year is to have some Colombian pesos in your hand or pocket for New Year’s. Of course, a fifty thousand peso bill is best.
11# Twelve Grapes and Twelve Wishes
Now, this is something you have to prepare well in advance.
The grapes are the easy part: every Colombian supermarket has equal parts booze and grapes right now.
As soon as the clock strikes midnight, you have to quickly gobble twelve delicious Colombian grapes while making a wish for the coming year. Pay attention. It must be one grap for each clock strike. You better practice a few days before, it’s not that easy 😉
Some people like to stand up on a chair when they do so.
Apparently, this tradition was founded back in Spain by crafty grape growers with a surplus. Still, make sure you’ve got twelve GOOD wishes ready in advance. One of mine is going to be for a gold-plated toilet. Damn! I just said that out loud. It’s never going to happen now.
10# The Suitcase
If you’re unlucky enough not to be in Colombia, New Year’s Eve is your best chance to rectify this appalling situation.
Grab your suitcase and run around your block as fast as you can.
If you do this correctly and in the right spirit, you are absolutely guaranteed to travel in the coming year. It’s a Science thing; please don’t try to argue.
You must do it once you’ve eaten the twelve grapes.
9# Put your right foot forward
It’s the easiest way to start a successful year. Once the 12 strokes of midnight have sounded, you must take your first step with your right foot.
Stand next to someone you trust and copy him if you can’t tell left from right.
This is another tradition that somehow originated in old Europe.
Eating lentils with rice is going to bring you good luck and money in the new year. In some instances, you might get away with just putting a handful of these hearty legumes in your pocket instead.
It’s no lechona, but, you know, sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet. And the lentil. It’s all in the name of luck, after all.
7# Wheat on the table
Colombians place wheat on their New Year’s table, a practice that originated in Europe.
The tradition, later adopted by the church, was brought to the New World by the Spanish during the conquest. In Colombia, wheat was first cultivated in 1541.
Offering wheat symbolizes wishes for fertility, friendship, and an abundance of food in the homes where it’s shared.
6# Eating (and Drinking) + a quick champagne shower
You might have noticed a theme of eating and luck being developed here. Really, December in Colombia seems to be about stuffing yourself stupid, and New Year’s Eve is certainly no exception here.
All the Christmas food available in the country will probably make an appearance on the table, and it’s best if you eat as much of it as your conscience and digestive tract can take.
Also, beware!! Our old friendly foe, Aguardiente, will probably make an appearance, as well as some whiskey (depending on your geography, it could well be Old Parr), and, certainly, a beer or two. There will also probably be some champagne, which is primarily used for showering everybody with. LMFAO’s got nothing on Colombia.
And, being Colombia, this will be accompanied by some dancing too. Bring your eating, drinking, and dancing shoes, my good friends.
5# Spend New Year’s Eve with your family (then you can go out)
In Colombia, family is everything. It’s not a problem to travel 8-10 hours to attend a birthday party or baby shower. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are no exception.
Once all the Colombian New Years traditions have been completed, people go around town to wish other family members a happy new year. Then, around 2 a.m., the young people party in nightclubs.
4# Your last song of the year will be “Faltan Cinco Pa Las Doce.”
Yes, the DJ addict (we all have one in the band) won’t be able to choose the last song of the year.
In Colombia, almost everyone will listen to Faltan Cinco Pa Las Doce (Nestor Zavarce’s version). It means “5 minutes missing for midnight”.
Strangely enough, the song is only 3 minutes long, so I suggest you put it on at 11:57!
3# Blow up the Old Year
As any Michael Bay aficionado will know, fun and danger go hand in hand. Have you seen Bad Boys 2? It’s even badder than Bad Boys 1! Well, probably the most diverting Colombian New Year’s Tradition is blowing up the personified Old Year. This, although fun, has resulted in injuries in the past, so make sure you’re safe with this one – you don’t want anyone walking close by when the Old Man’s fireworks get cracking. If done correctly, there’s no better way to say goodbye to the past year and make ready for a new, exciting, hopefully Colombian, year.
As a rule, you burn a doll bearing the effigy of someone you don’t like (often the president). On my New Year’s Day in Cali, I saw a life-sized doll burned on a street corner. It was pretty impressive, especially when it started to explode.
As a rule of thumb, don’t burn a doll that looks like your mother-in-law if she’s around.
2# Clean the house before partying
Another Colombian tradition to wash the bad memories is to clean your house.
It’s all about setting the stage for a fantastic year ahead.
So, here’s the lowdown: clear out the visual clutter, make your place smell amazing, ditch what you don’t need, and be a bit eco-conscious to save some cash and the planet. Go all in with a deep cleaning session, rearrange your furniture for a new vibe, and show your kitchen some extra love.
1# Wear a new New Year’s Eve outfit
The Colombian tradition is probably the most respected, even among families with little recourse. Every year, Colombians spend their money on a new outfit to be worn for the first time on New Year’s Day. Some also do it for Christmas!
There’s no belief in this New Year’s tradition. It’s more about showing off.
And now you’re ready to celebrate New Year’s Day like a Colombian. Before you come, I suggest you read our article on the best time to travel to Colombia to find out what festivals are held at the end of the year 😉
Bonus: Doing New Year’s Eve in Colombia right
Here are the best places to spend New Year’s Eve in Colombia.
Cartagena: The most famous spot
One of the tourist destinations of the world, this gorgeous old pirate city becomes a proper show-off when NYE swings around.
Where else would you rather douse your companions in Veuve than in this steamy, sexy, jewel of the Caribbean?
Stuff yourself at a gourmet dinner, carouse on the ancient fortified walls, or dance til there’s no more dancing at one of the many glamourous shindigs taking place. Cartagena is where the Colombians who can make it go to really cut loose on New Year’s.
I reckon it’s a pretty good idea to join them.
Bogotá: If you don’t like the heat for New Year’s Eve
Maybe it doesn’t really share the sassy glamour of its northern rival. That doesn’t mean that the funky, grungy Colombian capital doesn’t know how to rock the party.
Why should New Year’s be any exception? We suggest people-watching as streets such as Septima (Carrera 7) are taken over by revelers waiting for the fireworks and then hitting up a club such as The End to dance yourself well into another year.
Author’s note: This article was originally published by Paul Giles on the site www.seeColombia.travel. It has now been edited by Thomas Espeute, following the acquisition of SeeColombia.travel by Tomplanmytrip.
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