Christmas is an exhilarating, vibrant and joyful occasion in Peru. The holiday is celebrated with good food and plenty of cheer… but in a distinctly Peruvian manner.
Here’s a taste of what to expect at Christmas in Peru, but nothing we write will compare to experiencing the real thing. You’ll just have to visit to find that out for yourself…
Celebrating Christmas in Peru
See: La Noche Buena
December 24th in Peru is La Nochebuena translated as “the Good Night”. This is when the real celebrations happen with friends and families gathering to eat, drink, dance, and share gifts.
The events begin with Misa del Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), a special Christmas mass held in churches and cathedrals all over Peru. At midnight vast numbers of fireworks are set off, the sky crackles with colour and the partying begins. The Christmas dinner (more on that below) is served after midnight and is followed by the opening of gifts and music and dancing all night long.
Eat: Peruvian Christmas Food
Peru at Christmas is heaven for foodies. Actually, Peru is heaven for foodies all year round, but it is especially delicious at Christmas.
First, let’s talk Christmas dinner. Like in many other countries, the focus of the dinner is roasted turkey. This is served with apple sauce, tamales (seasoned and often spicy corn cakes stuffed with pork or chicken wrapped in corn husks, a variety of colourful salads, potato dishes and rice. Beans, quinoa, avocado, corn, nuts, yucca (cassava) and lots of herbs and spices are staples of a Peruvian Christmas Dinner.
A surprising Peruvian Christmas tradition is panettone; traditionally associated with Italy, this sweet fruit bread is fiercely popular in Peru. In Peru we call it Panetón. Thousands of panetones are sold and eaten every year in Peru and you’ll find it in almost every store. In Nochebuena we eat it with hot chocolate after our Turkey Feast.
Many restaurants offer traditional menus at Christmas, so you won’t need to wait for an invite from a kind family to experience an authentic Peruvian Christmas dinner.
Do: Santuranticuy Christmas Market
The Santuranticuy Christmas market is held every year on 24 December in Peru’s cultural capital; Cusco. The lively market is centred on the tradition of building a pesebre – a nativity scene. Vendors from all over Peru come to sell their adornment and decorations. The craft materials for sale include art, plants, Niños Manuelitos (figurines of baby Jesus), ceramics, grass, moss and much, much more.
The pesebre are as important to Peruvians as Christmas trees are to people in Europe or America. People seek out the very best decorations for their scenes, which are then displayed pride of place in churches, homes, and even in the main town plaza.
Santuranticuy is an experience for shoppers and visitors alike, and you don’t have to be building a pesebre to enjoy the wares on offer. Traditional Andean handcrafted items called retablos – carved wooden boxes featuring religious and historical scenes – are also sold. These are wonderful souvenirs to bring home for friends and family.
To keep you fuelled during your visit, vendors sell Christmas sweets, rich Peruvian hot chocolate and rum punch.
Do: Christmas Shopping in Lima
Peru is the perfect destination for a spot of Christmas shopping. Lima, in particular, has a fantastic shopping scene. Boutique stores selling traditional arts and crafts, artisan chocolate, colourful bags and contemporary stationery line the streets of Barranco. For a more detailed guide to shopping in Lima check out this guide by Aracari founder, Marisol.
We hope this post has enticed you to visit Peru at Christmas with Aracari Travel. It’s a truly wonderful experience, and one you’ll never forget!