The holidays can be a bittersweet time for expats. On the one hand, it’s hard to celebrate away from family and your normal traditions; on the other, it’s an amazing opportunity to adopt some new ones! This being our second holiday season in Bogotá, I’m feeling a little like sophomore year—you know, you’re still relatively inexperienced but have lost a bit of that deer-in-headlights look of total bewilderment. Now that I have my holiday sea-legs, I was readily anticipating two December happenings, both of which are unique to Colombia: a visit to Expoartesanías and lighting candles with my fellow Bogatanos on Día de las Velitas.
My first months in Bogotá, there was practically a chorus of people shouting at me to make sure I visited Expoartesanías come December, and for good reason. For two weeks, more than 800 Colombian vendors set up shop at the convention center to display and sell their goods. From traditional artisans and different indigenous groups to urban designers, all 32 diverse departments of Colombia are represented. You’ll find La Chamba black pottery, Wayuu mochilas, and Werregue Baskets made from jungle vines alongside modern silver jewelry, adorable children’s clothes, and organic makeup.
The overgrown pine cone above is actually a tagua nut, the seed of a palm tree common in Colombia. When polished, it has a creamy, lustrous finish and is often used as a replacement for ivory. Even more amazing are the tiny nativity scenes carved into individual kernels, which you can buy for around $6 USD (as opposed to online, where I saw them offered for $39.95).
In addition to the amazing display of unique Colombian items, there is an international building representing every other country in the world. On this past visit, I saw silver and ceramics from Mexico, colorful textiles in every shape and size from Guatemala and Peru, pashminas from India, and mosaic glass from Turkey.
People come from all over to shop here and it’s a great place to spend the day doing a little Christmas shopping. I’ve done it while sipping coffees or beers (no joke, there is icy cold Agulia beer sold in each building for less than a buck); there’s even a gastronomic building which features both typical and modern Colombian cuisine, the perfect place to grab some lunch. This past Monday I went with a girlfriend and made a quick tour of most of the buildings and next week I’ll spend the day strolling and shopping with my in-laws.
The Expoartesanías is located at Corferias Bogotá and runs until December 17th. For info on admission and hours visit their website here. Lucky you, they have info in English.
Monday night (December 7th) we revisited another tradition unique to Colombia, Día de las Velitas, where families gather on their steps or in parks to light candles in honor of the Virgin Mary and to usher in the Christmas season (check out this blog post about last year).
After dinner with friends, we grabbed our candles and headed into the main square. True to form, thousands of twinkling lights were strung up in the park and people were out selling snacks and canelazo. The festivities were already in full swing, which means the primo candle spots were taken and we were forced to wiggle our candles into a patch of uncooperative dirt. So even though my Christmas cookies may not cooperate in this altitude and I wasn’t lighting candles to venerate the Virgin, it’s hard not to feel the holiday spirit while being surrounded by the energy of happy, celebrating families.
One last thing before you go: today is the one year anniversary of No Longer Native! Thank you for being a reader, because your page views keep me going :-) Now, say something nice in the comments below or share your favorite post from this past year on Facebook!