Updated December 21, 2019

Saying Colombians are family oriented would be an understatement. Colombians love their families and holidays. Trust me, there are LOTS of holidays here.

This makes December primetime for festivities, street fairs and other celebrations throughout Medellin. Much to my surprise, the weather in Medellin is relatively warm in December. At night, it gets a bit cooler. Thus, reminding me a bit more of home, minus the snow, black ice and freezing temperatures.

In Medellin, a somewhat recent “tradition” has emerged among the locals or Paisas. Each year, at midnight on December 1st (November 30th), the Christmas season is informally kicked-off in Medellin. Many gather in their hometowns or local neighborhoods with family and friends. If I had to compare it to an American holiday, visualize a mini combination of a real cool Thanksgiving and New Years’ Eve.

Many gather to welcome in the month of December with fireworks, booze, music and food. Truth be told, the festivities start hours before midnight. This, of course, is my first year living in Medellin for the December holidays. Although the fireworks can be seen from many hotels, apartments, balconies and rooftop bars, I opted for a more authentic experience.

I went to Robledo, which is located in the northwest part of Medellin. A few of my Colombian friends live or are from there. We met up around 9pm at our favorite local chorizo and cerveza hang out. Ok, I was late. I got there around 10-10:30 due to the traffic. A few minutes before midnight, we made our way to the steps of the main Library in Robledo — Parque Biblioteca Tomás Carrasquilla to view the fireworks. Entire families, including kids, stayed up late to watch the fireworks, as well.

Sitting on the steps of the Library, it seems like the fireworks emerge, over the mountains, from every direction. Some displays easily give our July 4th firework displays a run for their money. Since the tradition is somewhat controversial and the fireworks can be dangerous, the fireworks are not endorsed or sponsored by the City. Locals pay for the fireworks themselves. Colombian families with more money sponsor the more elaborate displays. In lower income neighborhoods, the tradition is paid for by the local community. While sitting on the Library steps, firework displays emerged from everywhere over the mountains. It really is a beautiful tradition that means different things to different people. 

The female heads of families and other Colombian women are key to celebrating the December holidays. These women start coordinating the December festivities much earlier in the year.  According to some, the planning starts as early as February. Each year, there is a theme.  In 2019, the theme is the Paisa Family.

Formally, the tradition is known as La Alborada. However, the tradition is rooted in the violent, drug trafficking Narcos days of Medellin.  Thus, some oppose and object to the tradition. They perceive it as harmful due to its tainted origins.  Others object to the noise and damage caused by the fireworks, which are not sanctioned by the City. Some of the fireworks are handmade and dangerous. Fireworks are also illegal in many areas. That has not stopped me from hearing fireworks almost every night of the week since the December festivities began. Needless to say, my fur babies, Bitz and Naya, are not amused by the noise.

December 1st also happens to be the birthdate of Pablo Escobar.  As many know, he was born in Medellin. Since the City is desperately trying to shed its Narco image, the celebrations can be a painful and unwelcomed reminder for some.  As I understand it, in the past, criminals have also used such celebrations as an excuse for violence and shootings.

Younger Colombians appear to embrace the tradition. For them, they have embraced the tradition and made it their own.  They view the festivities in a positive light. For them, it is a time to celebrate the Colombian spirit and a time for peace.  It is also the perfect opportunity to gather with family but also with the friends they have chosen as family.


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