Christmas Lights in Medellin (2011)

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Christmas lights along Rio Medellin
Christmas lights along Rio Medellin
Christmas lights along Rio Medellin
Christmas lights along Rio Medellin

Some things just go together.

Hawaii and hula.

Football and Sunday.

Politicans and broken promises.

In Medellín, December brings a popular pair:

Lights and holidays. Lots of lights.

Christmas lights highlighting the Poblado neighborhood
Christmas lights highlighting the Poblado neighborhood

There are 16 millions of them, to honor the city’s 16 neighborhoods, the aesthetic highlight of the city’s Los Alumbrados.

The lights covered almost 20 miles of the  Medellín valley, mainly along the Rio Medellín, and stay on until January 9, 2012.

The Christmas lights are intended to represent abstract interpretations of city buildings and monuments, and paísa history and traditions.

It’s also nice to live just west of the Pueblito Paísa, where a visit to this hilltop attraction can feel like walking through a table model of an Antioquian township. Here, a huge Christmas tree glows, giving the Valle de Aburrá a beautiful symbol of Christmas.

Christmas display along Rio Medellin
Christmas display along Rio Medellin

A walk along the river, with more colors than a kaleidoscope lighting the way, can be hypnotizing. You’ll see happy people celebrating, with vendors offering food and drinks, everything from sodas to cervezas and carne to cotton candy. It’s a tradition I can get used to.

That reminds me of a funny story about tradition that a paísa friend told me…

While the rumba along the river during Christmas season is well documented for foreigners, walking through the neighborhoods can be just as fun.

Juanes, my paísa friend, said neighbors often pool their money to buy a pig, which they slaughter, then cook rotisserie style. It is common for people from various blocks to share food and drinks with each other as they pass each other’s houses.

Juanes is a paísa, born in Medellín, but he grew up in Miami. His experience with this tradition was limited to his infrequent holiday visits to Medellín as a child.

Christmas lights as geometric shapes
Christmas lights as geometric shapes

One year, his father decided to bring the tradition to their South Florida cul-de-sac. About five of their neighbors joined them. But apparently Juanes’ father forgot to tell them that he would be slaughtering the pig right there, right before he cooked it.

This shocked the couple that lived a few houses down, so much so that they called the police. Juanes’s father was arrested for animal cruelty. But after explaining that he was only following a paísa tradition, no charges were brought.

I would not be able to watch a pig get slaughtered, but I would not call the cops either. I guess we’ll chalk up the misunderstanding in Miami to cultural differences.

More importantly, there’s a moral to this story. It’s not anything profound, such as: “People from different cultures need to try to understand each other better.” Or: “The police need to use more common sense before they arrest someone who meant no harm, who was only trying to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.”

It’s much more simple than that. The moral is:

“You should try to celebrate Christmas and the New Year in Medellín, at least once. I think you might like it.”

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All photos courtesy of Ana Rodriguez.

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