The story of Christmas around the world > 5

Christmas is ushered in by the lighting of scores of candles to outline the streets on the night of December 7, the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. A wish is made to the Virgin Mary for every candle lit.

Medellin is easily the most beautiful city in Latin America in December, when its major thoroughfares, tourist attractions and even rivers are bathed in colourful lights. The annual spectacle, called Los Alumbrados (Festival of Lights), is impressive around the Rio Medellin, where large statues made of lights are found.

Praying the rosary for nine days before Christmas and singing villancicos (Christmas carols) around the nativity scene are beloved traditions.

The Christmas meal typically includes Ajiaco, a favourite soup in Colombia which contains chicken, corn, potatoes, sour cream, capers, avocado, cilantro and guascas, an aromatic herb. Dinner may also include breads, roast pork, tamales (pork, rice and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves), and natillas, a cold, heavy custard with hints of cinnamon.

When they wake up on Christmas morning, children find gifts at the foot of their beds from El Niño Jesus.