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Editor’s Corner: By candlelight
Andrea Gutierrez new

About two weeks ago, I woke up to the sound of my father half-shouting in the kitchen, trying to get his voice heard over the phone. Like most parents using phones, he is almost always on speaker mode.

My dad practically never gets phone calls. Every time he goes out, with the exception of going to work, he always leaves his cell phone at home, hiding behind the half-joking excuse that “nobody calls him”. It annoys me to no end, not least because I am a worrier by nature and God forbid that something bad might happen to him while he goes out and I can’t reach him by call or text.

But on this Saturday morning, my dad finally found someone who wants to call him (besides the eye doctor). It’s his niece, living in Colombia. Otherwise known as my uncle Claudio’s daughter.

The only thing I know about her is that she’s twice my age and works as an accountant at some banking firm or whatnot. For reasons too lengthy for this column, I have tons of relatives that I know of but that I’ve never actually met in person. Being the child of immigrants in the U.S. means that, among other things, 95% of your family lives on a different continent than you and therefore can only remember your name if they can recall seeing a goofy picture of you from when you were celebrating your 10th birthday at Carowinds.

Anyways, she and my dad were chit-chatting the usual conversation starters-- How is work, uncle? Busy, like always--- until she asked if we had done anything special for Thursday, December 7.

I had to laugh. Did my cousin really believe that Americans did anything for Noche de Velitas? As far as I know, December 8 isn’t a national holiday, so of course we weren’t going to stay up all night on Thursday lighting enough candles to fill up a cathedral.

For those who aren’t familiar with the custom, Noche de Velitas is an occasion celebrated on the night of December 7, which is the day before the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic feast day and public holiday in Colombia. People celebrate by lighting a ton of candles everywhere–on balconies and window sills, street corners and shop windows. Big cities like Bogotá and Medellín often host elaborate light shows in shopping malls and town squares for families to enjoy. Noche de Velitas is also a good time to invite your friends and families over for some food and drink as an unofficial start to the Christmas season, much like Thanksgiving here in the States.

I can’t remember the last time my dad celebrated Noche de Velitas, and I’m pretty sure he can’t either. My dad has lived here for decades, and has only visited Barranquilla during the summer months. I can’t ever imagine being away from home during the holidays—but my dad probably hasn’t been home for Christmas since The X-Files was on air. I wonder how that makes him feel… But over the phone, he just smiles and laughs it off. “No, no, we don’t celebrate that over here. We don’t get days off for that stuff,” my dad said.

“Everyone’s too busy.” He says that, and it’s somewhat true: nobody has time for much planning nowadays. Christmas can sometimes feel like a chore, where all the parties, social events, and family gatherings need to be carefully orchestrated lest we have a “Home Alone-”style fiasco on our hands (It’s one of the many, many things I’m trying to get a handle on in my 20s).

But I never remember my dad being much of a Christmas guy anyway. He’s always the last one in the neighborhood to put up Christmas lights outside, and he prefers to stay home and nap while my mom and I go to church on the 24th.

My mom is more festive, always keen on wearing corny sweaters and putting up the nativity scene right next to the tree–but not so close that someone might knock it over ( it’s a family heirloom!). If anyone is missing out on Noche de Velitas, it’s her–the amount of candles she uses in Advent alone could light up a dozen Christmas trees (and possibly burn them down).

And me? I do love candlelight, but I have to admit that I’m more interested in the logistics of preparing a nice Christmas ham.

(But in the spirit of the holidays, I suggest that we all chip in with washing the dishes!)

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