Popular Colombian Christmas Food
As in many countries, Christmas in Colombia is the most important holiday. Christmas festivities begin with the novenas de aguinaldo, which are celebrated nightly from December 16th to the 24th. This Colombian tradition follows Mary and Joseph’s journey to Jerusalem. Each night, people gather in different houses to pray, sing, eat Christmas foods, dance and party. A religious celebration in origin, the novenas have become a national tradition for all Colombian people.
The novenas culminate on Christmas Eve, which in Colombia is the main celebration day. At the beginning of the evening, people dance and chatter while enjoying snacks and drinks. The Christmas dinner is served late, and is the central part of the evening.
After dinner, the party continues and the kids play together. Then, as midnight approaches, everyone gathers to pray the last novena, which marks the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem and the birth of Jesus. The novenas always end with the singing of Christmas carols, so families wait for midnight while singing together and sharing the joyful spirit of the holiday.
When the clock finally marks midnight, it’s time to open presents! That’s right, Colombians don’t wait until the morning to have fun (except, of course, for small children). They get right to it as soon as it’s officially December 25th.
While there are many components of the Christmas celebration in Colombia, Christmas dinner is at the very center of the evening. Traditional feasts vary by region, but there are certain dishes that are appreciated around the country that make for an exquisitely decadent meal.
As the Christmas Eve dinner is served fairly late in the evening as people wait for midnight, pre-dinner snacks are crucial to keep them from getting too hungry.
The one pre-dinner snacks no novena and certainly no Christmas Eve can be without are buñuelos. Deep-fried cheese fritters rolled into balls, buñuelos have a crunchy exterior with a soft, bready interior. Today, you can eat them any time of the year, but they’re traditionally a Christmas food.
Other popular snacks include empanadas, savory pastries filled with rice and meat that are one of Colombia’s most popular dishes. There are also hojuelas, batter that is fried flat and dusted with sugar.
4. Dulce de Nochebuena
Colombian’s notoriously have a sweet tooth, so pre-dinner snacks include a dulce de Nochebuena, which literally translates as Christmas Eve dessert. It consists of different fruits like figs, papaya, and lime in syrup. The dessert is served along with the buñuelos, hojuelas, and other goodies. Somehow, it never seems to spoil anyone’s appetite.
People usually enjoy these snacks throughout the first few hours of the evening, when everyone is dancing or talking. But wise people make sure they don’t fill up too much, since the best food is reserved for dinner.
The Main Dishes
Main Christmas dinner dishes vary widely from region to region, but some of the most popular include ajiaco, tamal, and slow-roasted pork.
Ajiaco is a hearty soup that is mostly popular in the area around the Colombian capital, Bogota. It’s made with three different kinds of potatoes, minced chicken, corn, and gallant soldiers.
Another popular soup is sancocho, which is heavier than ajiaco but also consists of meat and potatoes. It usually has yuca, plantains, and corn. Both of these soups will keep you warm in places like Bogota, where the evenings are quite cool.
Another very popular main dish for Christmas is tamal. Made with corn flour stuffed with meat and vegetables, tamales are wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed for about 90 minutes. The result is soft in texture yet bursting with flavor. They might seem small at first but the dish is incredibly filling. You’ll wish you could go for seconds, but will probably be too full to do so.
Other delectable alternatives for the main course are slow-roasted pork shank, which is usually doused in dark beer for added flavor, roasted turkey, and lechona, a whole pig stuffed with vegetables, herbs, and spices.
All of these dishes are so filling that they usually don’t come with too many sides. But depending on the dish, there may be rice, potatoes, bread, or salad.
Colombian Christmas Desserts
No Christmas dinner can be complete without traditional desserts. In Colombia, the most traditional Christmas dessert is natilla, sweet custard with panela, which is thick unrefined cane sugar. The dessert is very sweet but fresh, with a soft texture that soothes the palate.
A popular alternative — or additional dessert — is Arroz con Leche. This rice pudding is made with vanilla, cinnamon, and raisins for a sweetness overload that people love. Although it is very popular, it is not specifically for Christmas, as natilla is.
Drinks are an important part of the Christmas Eve dinner and the Christmas celebration as a whole. There will be beer flowing throughout the evening and wine on the table at dinner. But the real star of the show is Colombia’s national drink: aguardiente.
Translated as “fire water”, aguardiente is either drunk as a shot to get the party started, or drunk as a long smooth Christmas drinks. And while the children enjoy non-alcoholic eggnog, adults spike theirs with aguardiente to make sabajon.
Another favorite drink is canelazo, a hot, sweet drink similar to hot wine. It mixes aguardiente with panela, cinnamon water, and cloves. For added flavor, you can also add a bit of passion fruit juice.
What makes both of these drinks so perfect for Christmas is that they’re sweet and warm, thus helping to create the cozy, welcoming feeling we all look for during this magical holiday.