Peru may seem a world away, but the Western traditions of Christmas will be highly recognizable. Even though Christmas actually occurs during the summer months in Peru, Santa Claus, known as Papa Noel, is still depicted as a jolly white-haired man wearing a large red coat, gloves and a hat. The western influence is obvious, but many aspects of the holiday have been melded with decidedly Peruvian features.
With nearly 75% of the population identifying with Catholicism, the celebration of the birth of Jesus is an important event. The rural context of the nativity scene makes it especially identifiable to the people of Peru. On December 24th, known as "Noche Buena", people flock to the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for the annual Santuranticuy market, which literally means "buying of the saints". Artisans fill the street with handmade figurines, including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, carved from Huamanga stone, gourds, glass or even wood. Retablos, wooden boxes with a carved image of the nativity scene inside, are also wildly popular. Most families traditionally buy the pieces for their nativity scenes at this market, keeping them on display until the celebrations on January 6th.
Another distinct feature of Peruvian Christmas is the practice of "chocolatadas". During the week of Christmas, especially on the 24th, it is common for families, churches and organizations to offer cups of hot chocolate to those less fortunate. Chocolatadas are a celebration of togetherness and selfless giving.
After the preparation of the nativity scene, families return home for a grand Christmas Eve dinner, often replete with an all too familiar turkey, wine and a fruit filled bread known as Paneton. At midnight, fireworks light up the sky and dancing fills the street. The Christmas celebration continues through the week until la Bajada de los Reyes, "the arrival of the three wise men", on January 6th. Following the tradition of the three wise men, people typically exchange gifts on this day.
With Christmas only a couple weeks away, we want to wish everyone, from North and South, a Happy Holiday! Be sure to check out our fabulous gift-gallery or to give the gift of hope, consider an altruistic donation to the Pro Mujer foundation, which helps empower and support women in Peru. You can help support ProMujer with the purchase of a silky-soft Baby Llama Throw, with all proceeds benefitting ProMujer, or by sending them a tax deductible donation.