A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series – Night of the Little Candles The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[Photo: Villa de Leyva as viewed from our hostel on a hill outside of the city.]
It´s December, which means that the majority of classes and all thing school-related have or are quickly coming to an end. Second semester of the academic school year in Colombia goes from the beginning of August to the beginning of December, but at my university the last two weeks of the semester are spent testing and giving presentations.
However, I, as an employee of the school, am still required to work, though that work is very minimal and far between.
This is due to the fact that there is a holiday on the night of the second Monday of December. It´s called Noche de Las Velitas—in English, Night of the Little Candles. As I´m sure you´ve guessed, it´s a holiday that involves candles. It´s celebrated on December 7th, the eve of the Immaculate Conception, and every town and city that celebrates it is filled with candles and lanterns and light set out in displays to honor the Virgin Mary. As with many cultural norms and holidays in Colombia, each region celebrates the holiday in a slightly different way.
In many areas of the Paisa (Antioquia) region of Colombia, Noche de las Velitas is celebrated several days before December 7th or 8th, a practice that is believed to come from the heavy Jewish ancestry in the area and a borrowing and mixing of Hannakuh ideas.
Bogota is said to have a fabulous candle and light display in the Plaza Bolivar, but small towns outside of the city are equally well known for their dedication to the holiday. One such town is Villa de Leyva. Thus, on Monday morning, I found myself on a bus bound once again for Villa de Leyva.
The little town was packed for the holiday. Not a single hostel had a room, and we were forced to rent a shared dormitory in a camping compound a fifteen minute walk outside of the town. Thankfully, with all of the Christmas lights and small candle displays, it was easy to walk along the dirt road to the plaza in the center of the town.
In Bogota and the surrounding area (Cundinamarca), La Noche de las Velitas is also considered the high-point of Christmas decorations, so the cobblestones streets we walked were packed with people, candles, and an amazing array of Christmas lights and decorations as well. The main plaza, packed tightly with people from Villa de Leyva and visitors from Bogota and the surrounding area, was roped off with police barriers. From roughly 9PM to 11PM, a massive array of fireworks were lit off from the plaza center as small children, sheltered by grandparents or parents sitting around them on borrowed chairs, melted multi-colored candles onto the cobblestones.
The night´s fireworks also featured the lighting of large metal-wire statues covered with fireworks. There were pinwheels, towers, and signs with words—all of which was surprisingly close to the public. Two rows of police barriers created a fringe of maybe ten feet between watchers and the fireworks that filled the plaza. Scraps of cardboard rained down on watchers. Ash and dust and smoke filled the air.
The next morning, when we walked through the plaza to find breakfast, the cobblestones were plastered with bits of cardboard, metal wire, and stones plastered with the cooled wax of many a melted candle.
About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.
While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.
I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.
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