During nine days that end on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), Colombians, Venezuelans and Ecuadoreans, celebrate a tradition that dates back more than three centuries when Catholic priest Fray Fernando Larrea wrote a litany of prayers known as the Novena de Aguinaldos. The prayers were written at the request of Clemencia de Jesus Caycedo, a New Grenadian educator who founded La Enseñanza teaching school in Santa Fé de Bogotá.
Every year since they were first published in 1743, Novenas are recited in households across the region, and accompanied by children’s games and singing of villancicos. The eventide gatherings also include seasonal foods, such as buñelos, tamales, lechona and sweet Natilla. This coconut and cinnamon desert is also served at the dinner table on Christmas Eve.
In towns and cities across Colombia, Priests officiate novenas in churches or public spaces with members of a community taking on the roles of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. In the Novena de Aguinaldos booklet, there are couplets that are recited every night, as well as prayers for specific evenings. The Every Day Prayer, or “Oración para todos los días,” is followed by one to the Blessed Virgin, St.Joseph and Baby Jesus.
If invited to a Colombian household to celebrate a Novena, here some essential tips:
- Always bring a token of appreciation to your hosts, a box of chocolates, Christmas gift, bottle of wine or Scotch.
- Novenas are festive gatherings, so don’t be shy about singing to your heart’s content or picking up maracas and four-string guitar.
- Novenas tend to be casual events, but best not turn up in Bermudas and sandals (unless, of course, on the beach).
- Given the coronavirus pandemic and on-going health measures, wear a face mask in someone’s home or out on the street, which is mandatory even if you are fully vaccinated.