Christmas in Colombia and in other parts of Latin America has more of the feel of the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve than of quiet evenings beside a fireplace. The focus is more on December 24th than on the 25th, and the gifts are traditionally given at midnight after a long party on Christmas Eve, with plenty of music and dancing. The kids believe that el Niño Dios or the Christ Child brings them their gifts, though Papá Noel or Santa Claus is also well known.
In some houses a Nativity novena is recited starting on December 16, and the evening of the 24th is the last night of the novena, which celebrates the arrival of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. The novena is also accompanied by traditional Spanish Christmas carols or villancicos. Some of the foods typically served during Christmas are natilla, a dessert with a consistency like a thick pudding and usually flavored with cinnamon sticks; buñuelos or large round cheese fritters; and sabajón, a vanilla-flavored liqueur. Also popular are what Colombians call tamales, not to be confused with Mexican tamales. The Colombian tamales are made of corn meal with bits of chicken, pork and/or beef with carrots and yellow peas, wrapped up in a banana or plantain leaf. Also, in Colombia the singular of tamales is "tamal" not "tamale."
There are also plenty of fireworks the whole night, as well as pleas from the city for the public to exercise care to avoid injuries. I recall that when we drove someone home from our Christmas party, we would invariably see someone dart in front of our car to set off some fireworks in the street. Over the years more controls have been put in place to try to reduce the number of accidents with fireworks.
See my webpage on Colombia at http://www.latinandcaribbeantravel.com/colombia.html
Caribbean Folk Arts Network (Caribfolk) - Caribbean cultural network: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/caribfolk/Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) - a nonprofit organization I founded in 1991 that presents Latin American cultural shows, exhibits, and workshops: http://www.raicesculturales.org/
Raicesnews - Latin cultural events in the