Alpacas around the manger, turkey at midnight and a potential wait until January to receive your presents; Christmas in Peru has more than a few quirky traits. As a predominantly Christian nation, it is unsurprising that Christmas is celebrated widely in Peru. Thanks to influences from America and European colonialists, a Christmas in Peru is very similar to those in the UK and the West. However there are a few traditions that make a Peruvian Christmas just that little bit unusual…
Though the Scandinavian tradition of Christmas trees are becoming more popular, it is the nativity scene that dominates in almost every Peruvian home. Known locally as retablos, they have a rich history in Peru. These wooden carvings were traditionally used by Catholic priests in converting the indigenous population to Christianity. Largely resembling the traditional nativity scene recognised worldwide, retablos do retain a little Peruvian quirk. Look closely and you’ll spot llamas and alpacas surrounding the manger, rather than cows and donkeys.
A big difference between a Peruvian Christmas and one in the UK is that when most of us are tucked up in bed waiting for Father Christmas on the 24th December, in Peru, the party is already in full swing. Noche Buena or “Good Night” is the peak of Christmas in Peru, and it is far more lively and spirited than the 25th. About 10pm on Christmas Eve, churches throughout the country hold the Misa de Gallo, akin to Midnight Mass. Outside the church; there are fireworks, music and revelry signalling the start of a very special period.
At midnight, Christmas dinner is served. As in the UK, turkey is traditionally the centrepiece, but like most Peruvian gastronomy, dishes are full of distinct, herbs and spices. One of the most traditional accompaniments to a Peruvian Christmas dinner is a spiced apple sauce, along with a huge variety of salads, home made tamales and of course, the Christmas cake.
Of course, Christmas isn’t complete without presents! In Peru, households exchange gifts before tucking into the spectacular feast, some give gifts afterwards, and in some Andean communities, gifts aren’t exchanged until January 6th during Epiphany, signifying the arrival of the Three Wise Men bringing their gifts to baby Jesus.
In Cusco especially, crowds flock to the city for Chocolatadas, an event that sees the true spirit of Christmas come alive. Communities group together to provide for those less fortunate than themselves. Often organised by churches, businesses or shops, they characteristically give hot chocolate, sweets, bread and even toys to poor children or pensioners. Many poorer families descend on Cusco for several days in order to attend Chocolatadas.
Whilst the build up to Christmas can last several weeks, with events that take place across towns and cities, right town to smaller close-knit communities, but it is on the 24th, after the meal and the gifts, in the dead of night, that Christmas truly comes alive in Peru. Once the children are put to bed, the adults really let their hair down and enjoy the festive celebrations. As the parties are in full swing until the very early hours…it’s no wonder that Christmas day in Peru is rather quiet!
In any case – whether you are in Peru or not, we wish you a very Merry Christmas from everyone at Inkaterra.