With sweltering temperatures and not a snowflake in sight, Christmastime is a little different in Peru. That doesn’t stop the natives from getting in the festive spirit, though – Christmas light displays take over the city streets, American-style Christmas trees are erected in plazas and Santa Claus pops up at parties all over the country. There’s even a scheme whereby volunteers dish out free hot chocolate and cake to the poor on Christmas Eve.
Of all the Christmas decorations, nativity scenes take prize place in Peru, and almost every home, shop and town square is sure to have one of the colorful altars adorned with hand-carved figurines (including, in typically Peruvian fashion, some llamas and alpacas among the donkeys). Originally a folk tradition, many of the country’s indigenous population place great worth on the nativity scenes and they are kept standing until ‘La Bjeda de los Reyes’, or the ‘arrival of the Three Wise Men’, on January 6th. In Cusco, a hugely popular market is held in the Plaza de Armas on Christmas Eve – the ‘Santurantikuy’ or ‘buying of the Saints’ is crammed with beautifully sculpted figurines and other Andean yuletide handicrafts.
Celebrations traditionally take place on Christmas Eve, or ‘La Nocha Buena’ as it’s known in Spanish, with a huge family meal of roasted turkey with apple sauce and tamales (corn dough dumplings stuffed with meat), followed by generous slices of paneton (fruit cake) and cinnamon-infused hot chocolate. Once the feast is over, it’s time for to party, with fireworks being let off all over and friends, families and neighbors gathering to salsa well into the early hours. Just don’t expect much to be happening on Christmas day itself – after all that drinking and dancing the night before, most people spend the day relaxing and sleeping off their hangovers.