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You've heard about the 12 days of Christmas. In some cultures, they celebrate 9

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

You've heard about the 12 days of Christmas. In some cultures, they celebrate nine. NPR's Carmen Molina Acosta brings us her family's Colombian tradition.

CARMEN MOLINA ACOSTA, BYLINE: There's this thing my family does every year around Christmas, but it's kind of hard to explain. We celebrate for nine days, but it's not Hanukkah or even Chrismukkah (ph). It's a tradition most people have never heard of. It's called the novena, the novena de aguinaldos. Technically speaking, a novena is a series of prayers, a Catholic practice where you pray for nine days straight. This particular novena was written by a friar in the 1700s, and over time, it's become a Colombian Christmas tradition. Colombia is a majority-Catholic country, though my family isn't religious, and we left Colombia when I was 2 months old. But every year we gather with a group of Colombian friends for as many of the nine nights as we can.

There's three parts to the novena de aguinaldos. The first is the most nerve-wracking - the readings.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

ACOSTA: It's like a Spanish oral exam. We pass around a prayer book, and each kid takes a turn reading.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

ACOSTA: But it gets better - the gozos, which literally translates as the joys. That's where the music comes in. Grab a maraca, a drum, a tin can. Whatever you can use to make noise, you better make it. And then my favorite part, the villancicos - Spanish Christmas carols. Very few of us know all the lyrics, and no one is ever in tune. But that's not the point.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Singing in Spanish).

ACOSTA: Oh, and then all the food - empanadas, bunuelos, pan de yuca, arepas, ajiaco.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE ARROYO SONG, "EN BARRANQUILLA ME QUEDO")

ACOSTA: And on weekends, dancing late into the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOE ARROYO SONG, "EN BARRANQUILLA ME QUEDO")

ACOSTA: Like a lot of immigrant communities, it sometimes feels like we're carrying on a tradition from a place of memory. My cousins in Colombia don't really celebrate novenas, and if they did, they probably wouldn't look anything like ours. More and more each year in Maryland, the novenas feel a little more fragile. People move away, go off to college and grow up. But somehow, still, every year, we all come together one more time.

Carmen Molina Acosta, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EN BARRANQUILLA ME QUEDO")

JOE ARROYO: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carmen Molina Acosta