The people of Colombia who celebrate Christmas in February with a black baby Jesus

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The people of Colombia who celebrate Christmas in February with a black baby Jesus

Residents of the city of Quinamayó, Colombia, celebrate Christmas in February with a procession that includes a black baby Jesus puppet. Local Afro-descendants say the tradition dates back to the days of slavery, when ancestors were prohibited from celebrating Christmas on December 24th.

They then chose a date in mid-February — the third Saturday of the month — a custom preserved since then. Celebrations include theatrical performances, colorful costumes, fireworks, music and dancing.

“The people who enslaved us celebrated Christmas in December and we were not allowed that day off, but we were told to choose another,” said event coordinator Holmes Larrahondo.

“In our community we believe that a woman should fast 45 days after giving birth, so we celebrate Christmas not in December but in February so Mary can dance with us.”

Professor Balmores Viáfara, 54, told the local newspaper El Colombiano that, for him, December 24 is “like any other day”, while the Adorations to the Child Jesus, as the celebrations are known, is a party “in which we blacks we celebrate by worshiping our God, in our own way.”

They combine Catholic beliefs, the fruit of European evangelization, with other forms of expression and rituals that slaves brought from Africa. They are “celebrations of resistance”, he summed up El Colombiano.

As part of the celebrations, residents go from house to house on a pilgrimage “looking” for the baby Jesus —represented by a wooden puppet—, singing and dancing.

Once “found”, the puppet is carried in procession through the city by participants of all ages dressed as angels and soldiers, who finally place it in the manger. Dancers perform a dance called “la fuga”, in which the shuffling steps of chained slaves are imitated.

The festivities — which include recitations known as loas, dancing and drinking — continue until the wee hours of the morning. For the remainder of the year, the baby Jesus doll is kept in the custody of one of the residents. That responsibility falls to Mirna Rodríguez, a 55-year-old midwife, who inherited from her deceased mother the task of keeping the doll in perfect condition.

“We’ve participated in the event since we were little, I think the tradition will never end,” he told the Colombian.

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