La Novena: It’s Like Christmas, But More

By Maria Ordoñez

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, it almost feels like a painfully slow progression towards Christmas. After all, Christmas is the epitome of the holiday spirit. It has food, it has family, it has carols, it has Santa, and best of all, it has presents. What more could you possibly want?

The answer is time.

I mean, you spend all year waiting for this one day, and in the blink of an eye, it's over. Gone. Finito. Suddenly, you're taking down your decorations and waiting for the next Christmas to come around all over again. That's why in Colombia and Ecuador, they came up with a loophole for extending the festivities. It's called the novena.

The Novena de Aguinaldos is a Catholic tradition that consists of a set of prayers recited during the nine days leading up to Christmas, that basically tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Every family has their own little book with all the prayers in it, and boy, are there a lot of prayers. There's a prayer for Jesus, there's a prayer for the Virgin Mary, there's a prayer for St. Joseph, and on and on. The whole thing is like a Catholic Oprah show:

Now, for some people, it really is a religious event, and they pull up to church all nine days to honor it, but for most people...it's a PARTY!

What most families do is gather up all of their family members and pick nine different people to host it each night. Then, they all get together and gather around the pesebre, or nativity scene, to pass around the little book until all the prayers have been read. That's when it really gets started, because the host will bring out all the traditional Christmas foods like natilla, empanadas, and buñuelos, and everyone digs in while singing villancicos (AKA Christmas carols).

My own most vivid memory was one year at a cousin's house where they passed out bells, whistles, and tambourines for all the kids to play, while my dad strummed his guitar, and we all sang at the top of our lungs. I think that was also the first time I got to read from the prayer book. I remember stumbling through the words and thinking that they were never going to let me read again. (Update: I'm a pro at it now and my mom lets me read every year.)

This goes on for nine more days, with each new host trying to outdo the last, all culminating in one awesome Christmas celebration on the day Jesus is finally born. Colombians and Ecuadorians aren't the only ones that do this, there are also the Mexican posadas and other variations alike. But they all have one unified goal:

Making Christmas last as long as possible!

 

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