‘This the season to be homesick…that is, if Medellín has ever been your home.
The Christmas lighting display has been a tradition for the city of Medellín for over 50 years. Every year, residents and tourists anxiously wait to see what EPM (Empresas Públicas de Medellín) has in store for the City of Eternal Spring, and expect it to be even more beautiful than the year before.
More than lights twinkling in strategic locations, the display in Medellín is a massive operation that generates close to one thousand jobs, not including the vendors who set up on the river’s promenade, parks, streets and other spots around the city. This year alone it has a cost of 6,200 million pesos.
Structures of colored lights move, they sing, they put on a show. They perform nightly for millions who consider it worthwhile to stroll down La Playa Avenue, or drive up to the Cerro Nutibara just to take it all in.
This year’s “Medellín, the lights of life” pays homage to the environment and the natural resources of Colombia: earth, water, life, and the traditions of our ancestors. In the words of Mayor Alonso Salazar, “Let December be a month of life, which is the song sung by this year’s lights”.
For those of you who have never seen it, it’s not exactly a side show; it’s not something you enjoy in the background as you shop and eat, but the main event in and of itself. It’s something you set aside an entire evening for, understanding that one night may not be enough to see it all.
The traditional lighting display or ‘alumbrados’ is the work of designers, architects, technicians and many workers who start planning it a whole year in advance and diligently start to set it up weeks ahead of time. Each year it’s more elaborate and majestic than the year before. 2008’s alumbrados are made up of 14.5 million light bulbs incorporated into structures, some which were already there, but others especially designed and built to adorn the areas spread throughout the city and the venues where events will take place.
More locations have a display this year too like Parque Norte, the Botanical Gardens and Las Palmas, the road which connects Medellín to the eastern region of the department of Antioquia. Of course the traditional spots are still adorned as well, the ones where it all started years ago, La Playa, Cerro Nutibara and the Medellín River.
The ceremony of the first lighting is only the beginning because this December is full of things to do, like visiting the recently opened, biggest, most complete aquarium in Latin America in Medellin’s Explora Park, or the free concert Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Juanes is giving the city on December 16th. “The concert”, says Federico Restrepo, CEO of EPM, “will be unprecedented”.
Exhibits, festivals, and some of the most homesick-worthy food you’ll ever have, complement the lights. Simply ask a ‘paisa’ what Christmas means as far as food and you get a list of traditional treats that not only taste delicious, but bring families together in the kitchen as well as around the table.
All in all, the people of Medellín come together for Christmas in a way that reminds us we are all in this together. We all need to unite against kidnapping, against crime and terrorism; it’s not a goal exclusive to some, but a united fight in defense of our beautiful land, one we are so proud to call home, and the one we gather in December to celebrate and admire.
The list of things to do before you die is long. Entire books have been written on the topic. This display truly belongs in one of those books.
The inauguration of Medellín’s Christmas lights was a collaboration with El Colombiano’s weblogger Bertha Villa.