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Nevada holiday traditions: Juan from Colombia

A wooden board lies on the ground outdoors with lit colored candles, bags, and candle holders on top.
Courtesy of Juan Tangarife
The Day of the Candles (Día de las Velitas) celebration set up outside Juan Tangarife’s family home in Las Vegas, Nev. on the evening of Dec. 7, 2023.

Lea en español.

With the holiday season here and 2023 coming to a close, KUNR asked community members to share their holiday and winter traditions. The station received responses in both English and Spanish, the following is one of the responses received. 

Juan Tangarife is from Medellín, Colombia, and now lives in Las Vegas. When he moved to the U.S., he made sure not to lose certain holiday traditions. The holidays in Colombia are joyful and community-focused, and aren’t just a dinner, but rather a neighborhood-wide celebration, he said.

A person crouches next to a wooden board with lit colored candles, holding one and smiling.
Courtesy of Juan Tangarife
Juan Tangarife poses with candles outside his home in Las Vegas, Nev. on Day of the Candles (Día de las Velitas) Dec. 7, 2023.

One very important day is Dec. 7, the Day of the Candles, or Día de las Velitas.

“It’s one of the most important holidays in Colombia,” Tangarife said in Spanish. “It’s originally a Catholic religious holiday, where homage is paid to the Virgin Mary. However, it’s expanded culturally throughout the country.”

At night, community members set up long boards on the stairs outside their homes, or even inside, and place colored candles on them, Tangarife said. Then, they can make wishes and give thanks. This is accompanied by traditional food, like natilla and buñuelos, he said. Natilla is a dessert made from milk and cornstarch, and in Colombia, buñuelos are fried cheese balls, which Tangarife said are delicious. The combination of buñuelos and natilla is quite common, he said.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” Tangarife said. “I remember playing with my friends outside when I was a kid and all of us with our little candles outside, lighting them. I feel like it's the preparation for Christmas Day. Unlike in the United States, our Christmas Day is Dec. 24, not the 25, so the 24 is where we open our presents. We don't have Santa Claus, but El Niño Dios, or the Baby Jesus. Dec. 24 is very much a day of community,” he said.

If you're living outside of Colombia, Tangarife said it’s common to call family on Dec. 24, and wish them a Merry Christmas.

“It’s kind of mandatory,” he said.“Your grandmother waits for the call, your uncles wait for it. Your family waits for you to call to wish them a Merry Christmas.”

Thank you to the community members who submitted their holiday traditions to KUNR. For additional examples of how the KUNR team is listening to the Northern Nevada and Eastern Sierra community, check out the KUNR FAQ and content guide.

Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States.
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