Christmas in Peru, like many other parts of the world, is a time of great joy and celebration. And like many countries that have their own unique traditions, there are certain Christmas traditions in Peru that you won’t find elsewhere.
Visiting Peru over Christmas with Aracari Travel is therefore a great way to experience something different and uniquely Peruvian. Contact us for bespoke travel peru ideas to travel over Christmas. Read on for some insight into Christmas traditions in Peru.
On a plate: Christmas traditions in Peru
The night of the 24th of December – or “la noche Buena” (the good night) – is the big celebration, when families gather together to enjoy good food and merriment before opening their presents together after midnight (although the children are often allowed to open their presents early). It is a very festive occasion with lots of food, drink, music and dancing.
A traditional Christmas Dinner in Peru is served after midnight, and like many other countries, centres around turkey, although some from Cusco will have gallina cusqueño (hen). Apple sauce, tamales and salad are generally served on the side and dinner is accompanied by a heartwarming and rich Peruvian dark hot chocolate fused together with cinnamon and cloves.
Other than intimate family meals, many restaurants will offer traditional Peruvian Christmas menus, so it’s a great time to visit Peru and enjoy the traditional food that’s typical for this time of year.
Christmas traditions in Peru are also borrowed from other parts of the world. Panettone (pictured below) is another hit, and is an Italian sweet bread with festively coloured green and red dried fruits inside. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Panettone is sold in droves and have been hugely popular in Peru after they were introduced about a century ago. Latin Kitchen have an interesting blog about the history of Panettone in Peru. That said, some still prefer to scoff an alfajor, 2 soft biscuits sandwiching a layer of dulce de leche (a creamy, milky and thick caramel).
Santuranticuy: Festivities in Cuzco on Christmas Eve
The Peruvian city of Cusco is set alight by Santuranticuy on Christmas Eve, a lively and bustling market that has been held in the Plaza de Armas on 24 December for several centuries. This Christmas tradition from Peru is centred on the tradition of building a pesebre – or a crafted nativity scene – and embellishing it with as many decorations as possible.
People come from near and far to sell their enhancements for the pesebre, which can be anything from art from the hip San Blas neighbourhood to an assortment of plant parts that could serve as ornaments. From as far as Ayaviri in the Puno highlands (altiplano), people bring ceramics such as animal figurines to incorporate into the pesebre. People from the aldeñas communities make the most of the opportunity to sell grass or moss which are used to add authenticity to the scenes. There are even sets of clothes on offer for the baby and Madonna, while other people in the market will happily offer to fully furnish the scene.
Read more about Santuranticuy Christmas Market in Cusco.
The resulting pesebres can be very beautiful. All of the work is done by hand and emphasis is placed on the most realistic yet glorious looking. They are the pride of the people, and are placed in churches, homes and across the main plaza. Families trawl through the market, pouring their heart into finding ever better adornments for their pesebre, this religious devotion is indeed a big part of the very essence of Santuranticuy which is such an important Christmas tradition in Peru.
Niño Manuelito – baby Jesus in Andean terms – is the main star. He adorns indigenous clothing as well as the thorn in his foot. The other characters from the traditional Christmas story are also included. The word Santuranticuy itself is a convergence of Spanish and Quechua literally meaning “to buy the saint”.
At night, the fair takes on a life of its own decorated by large biblical animals covered in lights. Street vendors sell traditional hot and sweet rum punch called Ponche to warm you up, and the starlit skies glitter overhead.
At midnight, some will attend the misa de gallo – or mass. Fireworks crack in the sky as midnight passes adding a splash of noise and colour. If it hadn’t done so already, the party now begins; usually a living room is taken over and furniture moved aside to allow for dancing. The music more than likely than not will go on all night.
Christmas morning means getting up early and excitedly opening presents in many countries. However in Peru this is usually a much needed day of rest after the night before!
Christmas gifts to take home from Peru
Of course if you’re visiting Peru over the holidays you’ll have to take home some suitable Christmas souvenirs for friends and family back home. Have a look at Marisol’s top picks for Christmas shopping in Lima. Marisol Mosquera, Aracari’s founder knows Peru inside out and is a Condé Nast Top Travel Specialist.
From the famous Alpaca textiles, perfect for keeping warm during a North American or European winter, to handmade Christmas tree decorations and other trinkets, to tasty treats to give your loved ones a taste of Peru, there’s a huge amount of choice. For more inspiration, have a look at our suggestions of 10 Peruvian Gifts to bring home for Christmas. On of our favourit craft shops in Lima, Las Pallas, typically has an annual Christmas Display of Peruvian Handicrafts.
Visiting Peru over the Christmas holidays
Celebrating Christmas while on holiday in Peru is a great way to experience the Christmas traditions in another country, and escape the cold if you live in North America or Europe. While it’s the rainy season in Cuzco and Machu Picchu, Peru is a year round destination and Christmas falls in the peak of summer weather in Lima and the coast. The city comes alive at this time of year and is buzzing with festivities and parties.
With warmer weather and sunny spells along the coast, its the ideal time to soak up the sun on Peru’s northern beaches, explore the history along the Moche Route, or head south to Paracas to visit the Nazca Lines, Ballestas Islands and famed vineyards around Ica.
Aracari Travel are top peru specialists, specializing in designing bespoke travel peru. Contact us or email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll work with you to create the perfect luxury travel peru itinerary – a great way to experience the Christmas traditions in Peru and so much more!