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A Colombian Christmas tradition lights up Charlotte

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Comité de Fiestas Patrias y Tradiciones de Charlotte
The Day of Candles at the Mint Museum features Latin American music and dance performances.

Charlotte’s Colombian community will usher in the Christmas season Friday evening with a lighting of candles in uptown. The Colombian tradition, representing faith and community, is becoming a Charlotte tradition as well.

The Day of Candles — or El Día de las Velitas — is a time of hope for Colombian artist Edwin Gil, who brought the celebration to Charlotte more than a decade ago.

“Since I was a child, my grandmother used to tell us that we need to light candles to guide the Virgin Mary in the process of bringing the baby Jesus,” he said. “For me, it represents more than that. It is the reminder that all the dreams that we have, we can make those come true.”

Traditionally celebrated on Dec. 7, the lighting of candles in windowsills and along sidewalks comes on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic holy day that honors the Virgin Mary.

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Edwin Gil
Artist Edwin Gil began celebrating Día de las Velitas in 2010 at his former Charlotte art gallery.

When Gil started celebrating the day in Charlotte, he organized a gathering among friends.

“The kids and the adults used to write on paper their dreams for the next year. It was beautiful to celebrate those goals for the future,” he said.

The small gathering soon grew into a big gathering that expanded beyond the Colombian community. The Uptown Mint Museum began hosting the event on a larger scale in 2016. It now includes live music, dance performances and a list of community partners.

“Now when I see there's a whole community still celebrating after all these years, it is a beautiful thing,” he said.

This year’s candle lighting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Uptown Mint Museum, followed by a Latino dance party.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.