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Celebrating Colombia’s Floral Heritage

Close-up image of a purse being held by a woman, with flowers in the background

Every August for eight days, the Colombian city of Medellin blossoms with color to celebrate one of the country’s most important festivals—the “Feria de las Flores” or Flower Festival.

While music performances, flower exhibitions and an antique car parade are some of the festival’s biggest attractions, the signature event is the Desfile de Silleteros—a parade of hundreds of local flower growers carrying huge, elaborate flower displays  (silletas) strapped to their backs. Before the parade begins, the silletas are judged in a competition.

The festival originated in 1957, when a member of the Board of the Office of Development and Tourism in Medellin suggested the city host a tribute to the country’s thriving flower industry. Colombia is the second largest exporter of cut flowers in the world, and Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 event was held November 1-8, and the silleteros parade was televised to avoid the nearly one million spectators it typically attracts.

The silleteros have a long history that dates back to the colonial period when it was impossible for mules or horses to cross over certain passages of the Andes Mountains. They got their name because during that time local men began transporting goods from region to region by strapping them to wooden chairs (sillas in Spanish) they carried on their backs. Silleteros also transported children and noblemen. Today, the word silletero is used for anyone who carries something in a wooden frame on their back.

In the town of Santa Elena, the hub of the region’s flower growers, peasants started transporting the blooms they wanted to sell in the same way, and many people visit the town during the festival to learn more about the silletero culture.

Whether you find yourself at the “Feria de las Flores” or are spending an extended period in Colombia, there are some unique Spanish slang terms that are helpful to know.

“Hola! ¿Qué más?” is a common way to greet a friend or “parce” and means “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”

If something is cool you can say it’s “bacano” or “chevere” or “¡Que berraquera!” if it’s just over-the-top awesome.

One of the most used terms is “vaina,” which is the equivalent of the word thing or thingamajig, but it can mean many different things. When used as part of the phrase “¡Qué vaina!”, it indicates disappointment about a problem like missing the last bus.

If that happens, a “tinto,” or black coffee, may be just what you need to stay sharp and alertor as they say in Colombia, "estar pilas.”


Learn more:

Inside Medellín’s Stunning Flower Festival

The 60th edition of Medellin’s Flower Festival

Feria de las Flores 2020 Guide

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