Unlike North America and Europe, Valentine’s Day in Colombia doesn’t focus solely on one special person in your life. Known as ‘Día del Amor y la Amistad’ – the day of love and friendship – Colombia’s version celebrates both platonic and romantic relationships. Taking place annually on the third Saturday of September (this year in 2019 falling on September 21st), locals across the country put up decorations, give gifts, and indulge in all things cutesy. If you’re new to Colombia or simply looking to spoil your friends, partner, and family, here’s the lowdown on Día del Amor y la Amistad.
Día del Amor y la Amistad has taken place in Colombia since 1969 and has similar roots to that of Valentine’s Day – which honors the priest who broke the laws of the time and married multiple women, being sentenced to death as a result. However, unlike other countries celebrating Valentine’s Day in February, Colombia’s Día del Amor y la Amistad happens in September when there are school vacations and people are more likely to buy gifts.
The name ‘Día del Amor y la Amistad’ is a combination of Valentine’s Day and World Friendship Day, and was intentionally worded so no to exclude people who don’t have a romantic partner. The day also exists in several other Latin American countries but not all of them; some opt for other titles or days specifically for spouses.
A game known by every Colombian, Amigo Secreto – ‘secret friend’ – is similar to Secret Santa played in some countries during December. The game is usually played among a group of friends or colleagues; there’s no maximum number of participants, and the budget can be set at whatever cost everyone agrees on. To begin, all names of the people involved are put in a bag and shaken. One by one, the players pick a name and whoever they choose is their amigo secreto. At the same time, everyone makes a list of the things they like and dislike, and submits a request for their final gift.
For the next few days (or even weeks depending on how long the game is planned for), each person has to buy their amigo secreto a present and ensure their friend doesn’t know who it’s from. Initially, the gifts are small, token goods like sweets (endulzadas) and trinkets, and these are handed out by one person facilitating the game.
On the last day of exchanging gifts, the present is a bigger, more expensive item that the amigo secreto has asked for – normally clothing, alcohol or gadgets. All the players stand in a circle and take it in turns to describe their friend without giving away their identify. They then hand the last gift over and everyone reveals who their amigo secreto was.
Amigo Secreto is a fantastic way to get involved in a Colombian tradition and shower someone special – or someone completely new – with a few days of surprise treats.
If you need a little inspiration for what to buy your amigo secreto or certain someone who deserves recognition, here are some classic gift ideas.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, so the selection of flowers here is impressive. Particularly in Antioquia where the Feria de las Flores takes place every year, there are tons of markets and independent vendors who boast personalized bouquets for very reasonable prices. Roses are always a safe choice to show a little love but we recommend opting for orchids or ‘lobster claw’ – both native plants to Colombia.
If you’re the artistic type, why not show your appreciation of someone with a poem? Showcase your Spanish skills with a poem of your own, or if you don’t consider yourself a wordsmith, there are a number of Colombian writers renowned for their passionate descriptions of love (Laura Restrepo, Piedad Bonet, and Jorge Isaacs). Send a poem to your friends or partner as a reminder that you’re thinking of them throughout the day.
You can’t go wrong with chocolate, and many shops and restaurants hand out chocolate for free on Día del Amor y la Amistad. While the brand Jet is available from most tiendas and is a hit with locals, if you’re looking to spend a little more money, Colombia produces some of the finest chocolate in the world. The best brands include Cacao Hunters, Chuculat, and Carlota Chocolat.
Another classic to show affection is to wine and dine for the evening. If you’re an expat living in Colombia, rustle up a traditional meal from your home country for your friends, followed by any customs you normally have on Valentine’s Day. If you’re new to the country, head for typical Colombian cuisine – you may just be served an arepa in the shape of a heart! Alternatively, take your special someone/people out for a fancy dinner and enjoy good company with delicious food.
A gift that can be given any time of year – but is especially important when celebrating love and friendship – is your time! Get together a group of people and plan to give something back to the community or someone in need. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a big act, it could be a simple case of helping a person with a daily task. If you’re stuck where to look, these volunteer organizations in Medellín are a great place to start.