Day of the Little Candles

Traditional holiday in Colombia

Día de las velitas
Little Candles Day or Immaculate Conception Eve

A house decorated with candles in Barranquilla

Official name

Day of the Immaculate Conception

Observed by

Colombia and Lyon


State and religious


Lighting of candles and lanterns


Various religious processions


Sundown December 7


Sunrise December 8


December 7

Next time

7 December 2023 (2023-12-07)



Related to

Christmas in Colombia

Little Candles Day or Immaculate Conception Eve (Spanish: Día de las velitas) is a widely observed religious holiday in Colombia. It is celebrated on December 7 on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, which is a public holiday in Colombia. This day is the unofficial start of the Christmas season in the country, although the official day is the First Advent Sunday (between November 27th and December 3rd).

On this night, people place candles and paper lanterns on windowsills, balconies, porches, sidewalks, streets, parks, and squares; in short, everywhere they can be seen, in honor of the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. On December 8 it is not allowed to work and it is customary for houses to hoist a white flag with the image of the Virgin Mary all day. They also hold numerous events, from fireworks shows to competitions.

Mary, mother of Jesus, as the Immaculate Conception. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Museo del Prado.

The celebration of the Night of the Little Candles dates to December 7, 1854, when Pope Pius IX defined as dogma the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, published in his Apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. In anticipation of this decision, people lit candles and paper lanterns to show their support and belief in this idea.

In Colombia, as in many places all over the world, this announcement was observed by lighting candles. The Catholic Church of Colombia kept alive the celebration and made an annual tradition of lighting candles the night of December 7.

Some places celebrate the night of the little candles several nights before December 8, particularly in the Paisa region. This is believed to derive from a hanukkah tradition since a large number of paisas are from Jewish descent.


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El Día de las Velitas is celebrated throughout Colombia, but traditions vary in each region and city.

In the municipality of Quimbaya, in Quindío Department the most important cultural event is the Candles and Lanterns Festival (full name in Spanish: Fiesta Nacional del Concurso de Alumbrados con Velas y Faroles), which began in 1982 and is held each year on 7 and 8 December. Each of the neighborhoods in the township competes to produce the most spectacular lighting arrangements, and many visitors come from throughout Colombia to admire the displays.

Light display along a river in Medellín

The Quimbayan Christmas Panther is an indigenous figure recognized by native and mestizo communities in the Quindío Department of Colombia. Belief in the Christmas Panther (el puma de navidad) has developed throughout the history of the Quimbayan holiday known as the Alumbrado de Navidad (see Feast of the Immaculate Conception), celebrated on the 7th of December in recognition of the Roman Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is believed that the significance of the puma stems from the arrival of ethnically Spanish colonialists from Antioquia in the region during the 1850s. The colonialist\'s Catholic traditions of using candlelight to celebrate the Immaculate Conception was combined with the belief of the local Quimbaya tribe in the effect that fire (luces de fogota) had in protecting against panther attacks as pumas and other local faunas are believed to fear fire. Thus, in an instance of religious syncretism, the Alumbrado de Navidad and the symbolism of the puma to native peoples were linked. It is still a common occurrence to display the symbol of the panther (in the form of sculptures made of terra cotta, cloth, plastic, etc.) in conjunction with the lighting of candles on the night of December 7th. Such religious syncretism is especially visible in the rural pueblos of Quindio where many residents claim full or partial descent from Quimbaya native peoples of the region.

In Bogotá, the Christmas decorations reach their peak on this day; the city, fully decorated, plans late activities for the whole family since most Colombians would be out and about admiring the shows, many streets close to traffic and allow pedestrians to walk freely and stop to admire the light arrangements. Malls, museums, stores, and other public places have extended hours of operation. There are many shows that take place on this night, live nativity scenes, caroling events, among others.

The buñuelo is traditional Christmas food in Colombia.

In the Caribbean region of Colombia, the lighting of candles and lanterns takes place in the early hours of December 8, before sunrise, instead of the night before. Devout Catholics wake up before sunrise and light candles with their family members. Many people decide to stay up all night and party in celebration and light the candles sometimes before they retreat to bed.
Families meet to celebrate the day and along with lighting the candles, there is abundant food and drinks. An evening that brings extended families groups together to talk during the evening.

In Cali, Valle del Cauca people also walk along the Cali River which is illuminated for the season.


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