February 25, 2013 Ancient Textile Traditions of Chinchero

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Chinchero is a small village in Peru, located in the departamento (state) of Cusco but it is about 28 kilometers (17 miles) northwest of the city of Cusco.  The village gets quite a bit of traffic flowing through it because of its close proximity to Cusco, the archeological site located there, and the beautiful handmade textiles made by the villagers.  Many people, tourists and otherwise, marvel at the textiles, but sadly, many never come to fully appreciate the process by which they are made.

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Hand-dyed and handwoven mantas in an array of colors and patterns.

It all starts with animals.  Sheep and alpaca are raised and tended to throughout the year; they are sheared usually just once a year.  This provides the raw material with which this process begins: dirty wool filled with pieces of earth and twigs.  To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant.  This root is a natural detergent which creates a lather and removes the dirt.  Interestingly, it is this same root which the people use as shampoo to wash their own hair.

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Jabonera Root, used to wash wool. 'Jabon' means soap in Spanish.

Once washed, the wool is ready to spin.  They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time.  The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn.  At this stage, it is time for dyeing.

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Spinning using the drop-spindle, pushka, to ply the already dyed yarn.

All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered.  Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.  For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus.  The beetle’s raw pigment also serves as women’s lipstick and rouge.

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Cochineal insects; crushed cochineal; wool being dyed with cochineal.

The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot.   The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.  For a mordant, to hold the color, they use collpa, a mineral found in the jungle.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry.  Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it.  A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven.

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Varying shades from natural dyes. Greens & blues: leaves, purples: purple corn, oranges: 'beard of the rock' moss, yellows: seeds & flowers.

To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together.  Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks.  Weaving an entire loom takes at least two months of solid weaving.  The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero.  While other villages around Peru use the same techniques to make yarn and weave, the designs imprinted in the textiles are specific to the location where they were woven.  An outsider may not be able to recognize the subtle differences in designs, but the people of the Andes can pinpoint where someone is from simply by the designs in their clothing and textiles.

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Woman weaving with back-strap loom.

The final products consist of shawls, skirts, scarves, belts, ponchos, table runners, bags, coin purses, and much more.  All are stunning and beautiful, but perhaps the most stunning of all is the physical effort and craftsmanship that goes into making those products.

Weaving is not a simple weekend craft for the people of Chinchero.  It is definitely a long, delicate process.  At the same time, it is much more than that.  Weaving is a living testament to their heritage, proof of their workmanship, and their livelihood.

See Peruvian Connection’s handwoven textiles for Spring 2013:
Kenko Pima Belt
Ocongate Pima Belt
Tarma Wrap Bracelet

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February 20, 2013 Inside the Spring 2013 Photo Shoot

For our spring 2013 photo shoot, we traveled to the romantic cobblestoned villages of Southern France, punctuated by the rocky Alpilles mountain range and the sparkling Côte D’Azur shoreline. From the ochre painted canyons of Roussillon to the mirrored canals of Martigues, we were dazzled by the quiet grandeur and rich histories surrounding our every step.

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Sailboats lining the canal in Martigues

Famous for their unbeatable pigments in every shade of rusty ochre and mineral blue, the colorful village of Roussillon was a gorgeous backdrop for our collection. This unique village spirals up a steep canyon, striped in a rich ochre palette. This same pigmented stone is used to build the tile-roofed homes that are characteristically colorful. According to the “official” record, the layers of ochre exist because Roussillon was at the bottom of the sea millions of years ago. The specific ochre coloration is caused by the mineral goethite (named after the German writer Goethe, who was also an avid mineralogist). But local legend tells a far more intriguing story…

In this version, a tragic love affair brought about the rich coloration of the town. The story takes place in the Middle Ages and centers upon Sermonde, the young wife of Raymond d’Avignon, the lord of Roussillon. Since Raymond spent most of his time away hunting, the lonely Sermonde fell in love with a local troubadour (a poet-musician). When Raymond learned about her infidelity, he secretly cut the troubadour’s heart out and served it to Sermonde for dinner. Upon finishing her meal, Raymond revealed how she was truly “heart to heart” with her lover now. Unable to handle this horrific truth, Sermonde threw herself from the top of the village and fell to her untimely death. From that point on, her red blood has run through Roussillon.

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Richly colored ochre cliffs of Roussillon

The historic Château de Roussan was another location that teemed with rumors and local legends. Nestled in the heart of Saint Rémy de Provence, the Château provided a dreamy, fairy-tale setting, with looming plane trees lining the walkways, beautiful carved wood doors and museum-worthy relics housed inside. This early 18th-century mansion was once the “treasured love” of Nostradamus’ brother, Sir Bertrand de Nostredame. The beloved mansion was a grand inheritance, housing generation after generation, successively enriching its history. One such rumor-laden owner was Lady Diane, known as the “Belle de Provence.” It was well known that she had caught the attention of King Louis XIV, after attending one of his balls with Mme de Sévigné. It’s rumored that he even stayed at the Château on more than one occasion (and this was before it was a hotel)! Now a functioning hotel, the Château is filled with unbelievably rare antiques, including original prints by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and hand-carved chinoiserie cabinets made with real ivory. The place was filled with surprises!

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Shooting the Tribal Tank Dress on the terrace of the Château de Roussan.

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Chapelle Saint-Sixte d'Eygalières, near St. Rémy

The colorful pastoral landscapes that inspired our spring shoot had also been a major source of inspiration for Van Gogh, who moved to Provençe in early 1888. Although his time was short in the region, he manically produced over 300 works around St. Rémy, portraying local churches, harvests, windmills, the Alpilles mountain range and the simplicities of country life. His time in Provençe was famously disturbing, as his psychological instability grew worse and worse—culminating in late 1888 when he cut off his own ear after a violent dispute with his painter friend Gauguin (who had moved to the region that same year to work with Van Gogh). Following this meltdown, Van Gogh checked himself into the Saint Paul de Mausole asylum near St. Rémy, where he lived for a year. If you visit this region, you can see the exact places where Van Gogh created some of his most renowned paintings, such as The Evening Café, Starry Night, The Old Windmill and The Hospital Garden. You can even see some of these landmarks in our photos!

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Smooth-as-glass waters of the 'Le Miroir aux oiseaux' (Mirror Bird) area

We also basked under the warm sun in Martigues, capturing the charm of its boat-lined canals and softly colored stucco homes. The placid waters of the canals shined like mirrors, inspiring the front cover shot of our Alençon Sheath. Nicknamed the “Venice of Provence,” this relaxing town was a perfect backdrop for our new sundresses! As I look back on these sun-drenched days filled with the carefree spirit of France, I can’t help but get excited for warmer spring days (and a wardrobe change)!

Take a peek behind-the-scenes with our Spring 2013 video

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February 14, 2013 Stitches in the Air

We love lace at Peruvian Connection. Nowadays, it evokes a slower, more romantic time, but when Queen Elizabeth I initially fell in love with lace, wearing it became a sign of great wealth and power for both men and women.  Lace had an enormous resurgence in popularity during Victorian times with the advent of machine-made lace, remaining popular until the 1930’s. In the last few years lace has become a staple of many runway collections and remains an incredibly strong trend, from the most innocent and romantic dresses to the sexiest underpinnings. Even the smallest touch makes the simplest garment more feminine and beautiful.

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Lace mood board for spring 2013

We appreciate the skill and craftsmanship that went into handmade laces: it took literally hundreds of hours to create fabrics and edgings that were truly luxurious, decadent and purely decorative. While net and gauze were produced in pre-Columbian Peru, what
we now call lace probably originated in Italy from hand-embroidery techniques, especially cutwork, eventually evolving into a fabric created by working onto a foundation of threads couched onto paper, called Punto de Aria (literally… stitches in the air) in Italy.

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Vintage hand knitted cotton lace.

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Detail of panel of fine Vintage Irish Crochet Collar.

We are particularly fond of knitted lace because of its lightness and drape. Knitted lace was thought to have originated in Spain, with knitting exchanged by Arab traders. The Spanish method was later adopted in the Shetland Isles, where incredibly fine lace shawls were made relatively recently, starting in the 19th century.  The first knitted lace shawls were crafted over 300 years ago in the Orenburg region of Russia. Haapsalu in Estonia began its tradition of knitted lace shawls about 100 years later.  Each region has its
own patterns and techniques that identify its providence.

Crochet lace was thought to have begun at about the same time and originated from Tambour work.

Today we work collaboratively with highly skilled craftspeople to create unique ways to reinterpret vintage laces into beautiful and wearable art pieces. It can start with a tiny floral shape in an Irish crochet panel or a gorgeous vintage lace dress, but the same techniques are used to create each garment stitch by stitch, as crochet can only be made by hand.

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We adore these old laces especially because of their rich history. Even the smallest lengths that have been saved and carefully wrapped around browned paper, or panels stored in tissue paper bundles have a unique character. The subtlety of the shades of white, yellow and cream seems to imbue them with quiet beauty.  These fragments seem more romantic because of their fragility, and the discovery of an old box of lace was our favorite inspiration for this season.

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A treasure box of inspiration.

By looking back at the historical references for techniques and pattern inspiration and then blending these with trend appropriate, yet classical silhouettes in beautiful luxurious yarns, we hope to continue the tradition of creating future heirlooms.
Highlights of Peruvian Connection’s Lace Collection for Spring 2013:

Heirloom Lace Top

Nikki Lace Cardigan

Ginevra Lace Dress

Arianne Lace Dress

Belle du Jour Sheath

Starflower Dress

Antibes Lace Pullover

Corsica Pullover

Manon Tunic

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December 21, 2012 So this is christmas: A look around the world

Cookies are baking, stockings are hanging and lights are twinkling. Letters for Santa are flying to the North Pole, where the jolly man is checking his list among prancing reindeer and busy little elves.  And of course, wrapped presents are sending a wave of eager excitement beneath ornament-strung trees.   Sounds like Christmas! These all-too-familiar images have come to define the American vision of Christmas, but they are only a tiny piece in the giant mosaic of traditions surrounding this widely celebrated Holiday. It’s the perfect time of year to follow these interwoven threads of tradition, to not only reflect on what they mean to us individually, but also how they are connected to cultures beyond our own—across oceans and across decades.  From the exuberant midnight toasts in Peru to the smashing of plates in Oaxaca, Mexico, every culture brings forth a dazzling panoply of time-honored traditions, making the season all the more awe-inspiring!

CHRISTMAS IN GERMANY

Nutcrackers and Christmas trees and wreaths, oh my! These Christmas icons are so familiar in America that it can be easy to forget their true origin: Germany.  Wreaths may seem to be just another “wintry” Christmas decoration, but, in fact, they are steeped in history and symbolism.  Tracing back to the Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century, the evergreens used to make the wreaths symbolized Jesus’ gift of everlasting life, while the circular shape represented God.  Later the wreath was adorned with candles that were lit to mark the countdown to the “coming of Jesus” (Christmas Day).  Today, the wreath remains a common tradition in Germany, with families gathering to light one of the four candles each Sunday leading up to Christmas.  The lighting of the first candle on the first Sunday of advent marks the beginning of the German Christmas season (usually the first Sunday in December). At this time, neighborhoods are elaborately decorated with trees, lights, nativity scenes and handcarved Nutcrackers.

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image credit: http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/04__W__t__G/01/09__Advent__Christmas/Advent.html

Even the American folklore surrounding Santa and his elves draws heavily from German traditions.  Throughout most of Germany, St. Nicholas is depicted as a white bearded Bishop, wearing a red Bishop’s gown, miter and staff.   This image recalls the legend of the real St. Nicholas, who was a bishop during the 4th century in the region now known as Turkey.  In the stories that existed about him, he was known as the protector of children, who anonymously bestowed gifts to them.  Over time, the life of St. Nicholas came to be celebrated on December 6th every year, when he would bring presents to all the well-behaved children.  To this day, German children polish their shoes and place them on their doorstep on the eve of the 6th, leaving a letter for the Saint and maybe even some carrots for his white horse.  St. Nicholas’ helper, Knecht Ruprecht, meaning “Farmhand Rupert” or “Servant Rupert,” is a far cry from the American vision of happy little dancing elves.  Usually portrayed as the same height as the Saint with a long white beard, Ruprecht wears either furs or straw, sometimes carrying a staff and a bag slung over his shoulder. Representing a peculiar mix of joy and Sturm und Drang, “Storm and Stress,”  Ruprecht helps St. Nicholas fill the empty shoes of well-behaved children with candies and toys while the naughty children get switches.  In some versions of the story, Ruprecht will even haul the naughty children off in his sack, or beat them with his bag of ashes.

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image credit: http://vintageimages.org/index.php/Holidays/60

In Germany, the Christmas Tree is at the heart of the celebration.  In fact, the first known Christmas tree was set up in Freiburg, Germany in 1419 by the town bakers, who adorned it with nuts, fruits and baked goods for the children to eat.  Germans continue this tradition every Christmas Eve, ceremoniously setting up the tree and decorating it with lights, nuts and ornaments, along with a nativity scene underneath the tree.  During the evening of Christmas Eve, the figure of Santa Claus, known in Germany as Weihnachtsmann (literally, “the Christmas man”), will slip through the door (rather than the chimney) and leave presents under the tree for the children.  As the evening light fades, the family will gather around the newly appointed Christmas tree, exchanging gifts and singing carols. The Christmas Eve meal is typically lighter, such as sausages and potato salad followed by midnight mass.

Since presents were unwrapped the night before, Christmas day is centered around a mighty feast.  Typically the main course is roast goose or carp, served alongside apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, and potato dumplings.  Dessert is an impressive spread, including an array of spicy cookies called lebkuchen, dense fruit cakes and the famous Christmas Stollen, a yeast bread filled with raisins, nuts and candied fruit.   The Christmas season concludes on January 6th (Epiphany), when the town will gather to watch local boys reenact the visit of the Three Kings to the baby Jesus.

CHRISTMAS IN SPAIN

In the not-so-distant country of Spain, Christmas festivities are quite different than in Germany. The season officially begins with The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. People may begin to hang up lights or put up trees, but Christmas decorations are not as central to the celebration as they are in Germany or in America.  Being a deeply religious Holiday in Spain, the nativity scene is considered the most important “decoration” of all.

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image credit: http://blogs.ihes.com/spanish/?p=669

What you may be surprised to see hidden away in this divine nativity scene is a little porcelain gnome, known as the Caganer.  It’s not just any gnome though, this particular gnome is literally squatting with his pants around his ankles, caught in the act of “relieving” himself (yes, he really is shown going to the bathroom!).  It may seem like absurd toilet humor, but these figurines have origins that date back as early as the 18th century.  According to some traditions, these odd little gnomes serve to remind us of our humaneness (even in this divine moment, nature “calls”), while according to others, the gnomes provide good luck for harvest time.

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image credit: http://criskat.hubpages.com/hub/Who-is-El-Caganer#slide4231671

Another seemingly strange tradition in the Catalan region of Spain is the Caga Tio, meaning “Poo Log.” Caga Tio is a wooden log that wears a red Santa-like hat with a smiley face painted on one end.  Beginning on December 8th, children cover the bare end of the log with a blanket to keep him warm and feed him Turron, an almond nougat candy, and orange peel every evening until Christmas.  Since the idea is to make this Santa-like figure “poo” out the Christmas presents, it’s believed that the more Caga Tio is fed, the more presents he will have to give.  On Christmas morning (or sometimes Christmas Eve), the children are given a stick to help get the “back-logged” presents out of Caga Tio.  After hitting the log and maybe tossing him in the fire, the children will look under the blanket that kept Caga Tio warm to find all their Christmas presents.

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image credit: http://mapsalesdotcom.wordpress.com/tag/caga-tio/

Known as Nochebuena (“Goodnight”), Christmas Eve is when families across Spain gather together for an extensive meal of Turkey stuffed with Truffles (the mushrooms, not the chocolates!), called Pavo Trufado de Navidad, or roast lamb, as well as lobster and other seafood dishes, cheeses and pâtés.  Desserts include Turron, an almond nougat candy, Polvorón, a soft, crumbly shortbread and marzipan. At midnight on Christmas Eve the church bells will ring, calling people to the misa de gallo (“Mass of the Rooster”), which is named according to the belief that a rooster belted out when Jesus was born.  Following mass, people will take to the streets carrying torches, banging on drums and tambourines and playing guitars, proclaiming the Spanish saying, “Tonight is the good night and it is not meant for sleeping” (Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no Es noche de dormir).

No, Santa does not come down the chimney, nor does he sneak in through the front door on Christmas Eve in Spain.  Some children are even warned that Santa, known as “Papa Noel,” will take them away if they are bad!  Outside the Catalan region, the Spanish gift-givers of Christmas are the Three Wise Men (called the Three Kings, Los Tres Reyes Magos).  They bring gifts to all the children on January 6th, Three Kings Day (Epiphany),  the day the Three Wise Men brought gifts to baby Jesus.  The day after Christmas (“Boxing Day”), children will write letters to the Three Wise Men detailing what gifts they want. Then on the eve of Epiphany, children will set out their empty shoes to be filled with goodies, much like they do in Germany, along with gifts for the Three Kings.  Forget the milk and cookies though! In Spain, the Wise Men are left a glass of cognac, a Satsuma and some walnuts. Some children may even fill their shoes with hay or carrots for the King’s camels and donkeys.  After opening all of their presents Epiphany morning, the town will gather to welcome the Three Kings, who often come parading through town on floats. A special ring shaped cake decorated with candied fruits, called Roscón (or Rosca), is always eaten on Epiphany.  A small trinket, usually a Jesus figurine, is baked inside the cake, and whoever finds it is crowned the King or Queen of the banquet.

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image credit: http://www.springhotelsmagazine.com/roscon-de-reyes-a-spanish-tradition/

CHRISTMAS IN MEXICO

From the gift bearing Three Wise Men and the grand nativity scenes to the Rosca cake, many Spanish traditions influence the lively Christmas celebrations that take place in Mexico. The Mexican Christmas season swings into full force with a nine day procession known as Las Posadas (“lodgings”), beginning the nine days before Christmas on December 16th.  A tradition that began in Spain, these processions reenact Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.  The procession is led by a couple dressed as Joseph and an expectant Mary, who is riding a donkey.  Musicians follow behind as the parade goes door-to-door asking for “lodging,” where they will playfully be denied until they find the designated house (or church).  Once they are finally invited in for lodging, there will be a party filled with carol singing, piñata bashing and lavish feasting.  These processions happen every night for nine days, leading to the grand fiesta on Christmas Eve, also known as Buena Noche (“goodnight”) in Mexico.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, Las Posadas invites another tradition, the “breaking of the plates.” From December 16th through the New Year, stands are set up outside the Cathedral where people can buy buñuelos, a crispy Christmas pastry. It’s a tasty treat, especially with some chocolate syrup, but watch out for flying glass– afterwards they smash the plates on the ground!  Tracing back to the pre-Colombian belief that one’s belongings should be destroyed every 52 years, this energizing tradition is meant to signify the end of the old year.

At the final Posada that takes place on Christmas Eve, there is a grand reenactment of placing the baby Jesus into the manger.   The celebration is interrupted for midnight church service, but immediately after fireworks fill the sky as families return home for an elaborate dinner, enjoyed late into the night (it’s not uncommon for it to last until 3 or 4am!).  Of course, traditional Christmas Eve dishes vary from region to region, but a turkey, stuffed with ground meat, olives and raisins or a chestnut dressing, is becoming more and more popular.  Other dishes can include tamales, romeritos, a dish made with fresh herbs, shrimp patties and mole sauce, pozole, a rich hominy stew, and churros, a crispy, sugar-coated pastry.  There is also a “Christmas Eve Salad” (ensalada de Noche Buena), made with beets, pine nuts and regional fruits, such as banana and pomegranate.

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image credit: http://www.harlemloves.com/2012/01/the-munchies-ensalade-de-noche-buena/

With Christmas Eve dinner lingering into the wee hours the night before, Christmas Day tends to be a little quieter in Mexico.  It’s becoming more and more popular for children to open gifts from Santa Claus Christmas morning, but, traditionally, children do not receive presents until January 6th on Epiphany, known as Día de Reyes (“King’s Day”).  As in Spain, the Three Wise Men are believed to be the gift givers, bringing with them toys and treats for all the good children.  The ring shaped Rosca cake is also enjoyed on this day in Mexico, although whoever finds the baby Jesus hidden inside is supposed to host the Candelaria party on February 2nd, commemorating the day Jesus was taken to the temple and officially named.  Some of these same Spanish influences seep even further South into Peru.

CHRISTMAS IN PERU

Although it may seem worlds away, Christmas in Peru may seem surprisingly familiar.  Despite the fact that it’s summer in December there, Santa Claus can be seen at various parades and markets, donning everything from the fur-trimmed red hat and the gloves to the black boots.  Christmas trees twinkle in windows, lights fill the streets and elaborate nativity scenes and retablos take center stage.  Children write notes to Santa, in hopes of getting what they want Christmas Eve, the biggest night of the Holiday season in Peru.

Christmas Eve is kicked off with mass at 9pm, also known as Misa de Gallo (“Mass of the Rooster”).  Afterwards, the family gathers for an extensive midnight meal.  Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner includes turkey or pork, applesauce, “white salad,” made with small pieces of baked potato, apples, raisins, pecans, pineapple and mayonnaise dressing, and a rice dish known as “Arabic Rice” (arroz arabe), made with pieces of angel hair pasta, raisins and a small amount of coca-cola (yes, the soda!).   Dinner concludes with a rich cup of hot chocolate and a dense slice of Pannetone, a cake filled with nuts and candied fruits.

At the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, everyone will raise a glass of champagne to joyously toast the holiday, followed by hugs all around.  With the conclusion of the midnight toast, children get to open their presents from Santa, who was able to sneak in while they were gone to mass or busy eating dinner.  Like many parts of the world, Christmas Day is more relaxed in Peru, a day meant for family and lots of leftovers!

For me, there is nothing more magical than realizing that people all across the world are sharing in the excitement of this holiday season, each with their own traditions traversing past and future.  Christmas is not only about expanding waistlines and shrinking wallets; it’s a time to remember those we love and a time to keep inherited traditions alive, while forging our own. So tell us: what makes “this” Christmas for you?

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December 14, 2012 Ghosts from Christmases Past

The Staff of Peruvian Connection has always taken great pride that we offer some of the most beautiful sweaters in the world. It took a lot of digging to find some ugly sweaters, but lurking in the depths of our closets were some glitzy treasures from decades gone by!

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PC staff in their "Ugly" Sweaters.

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The winner of the "ugly sweater contest"

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