Christmas Traditions in Peru
a bustling, open-air market in the summertime, with brightly costumed vendors
selling handcrafted manger scenes. Homes are overflowing with hospitality,
and displaying Nativities that depict wise men followed by a train of llamas,
tamale vendors, and other local characters.
is Christmas in Peru: a delightful blend of Native culture and Colonial
European traditions. Early Peruvians identified with the rural context
of the arrival of the infant Christ. The crèche is a central Christmas
theme and the subject of a wide range of regional interpretations: figures
carved from wood, or pink or grey Huamanga stone from Ayacucho; "retablos",
or carved wood altar boxes; and carved gourds called "mates burilados".
the country on Christmas Eve, or "Nochebueña", the family
returns from Midnight Mass to find their stockings stuffed with gifts
from "Papá Noel" (Santa Claus). A figure of the Christ
child is placed in the manger, and children open presents to the sound
of fireworks. A traditional meal features such foods as roasted guinea
pig, "paneton" (fruitcake), turkey and tamales. Christmas was
first celebrated in Lima in 1535, where Christmas day is highlighted by
a bullfight and a procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary. Celebrations
continue until "Bajada de los Reyes", the Arrival of the Kings,
on January 6.
Enough for 30 medium-sized alfajores
THE "MIEL"* FILLING:
1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup margarine
3 1/2 tbsp confectioners' sugar
cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups water
* "Miel", or honey in
Spanish, refers here to a spiced caramel filling.
oven to 375 degrees F. sift the dry ingredients onto a lightly floured
board and make a well in the center. Place the softened margarine in the
center and, using your fingertips, gradually work in the dry ingredients.
Work the dough lightly, pushing it away from you with the palm of your
hand and then drawing it back into a ball until it is smooth.
for 30 minutes.
chilled dough out on a floured work surface to 1/6 in and cut into rounds
with a 2 1/2 - 3 in (7 cm) diameter cookie cutter. Place on a greased
and floured cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes until barely golden.
Be careful not to let them brown at all. Cool on racks and when completely
cool, fill with the miel filling.
MAKE A MIEL FILLING:
the first four ingredients in a large heavy based pan and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer mixture gently until it forms a thick syrup, (238
degrees F on a candy thermometer). Mix in the vinegar and remove from
the heat. Remove cloves and cinnamon stick and leave to cool before using.
Tip: To check if the miel filling is done, put a drop in a bowl of cold
water, it should form a soft ball.
FILLING "MANJAR BLANCO":
Blanco", or white treat, is a common Peruvian caramel filling. For
Americans, it can be an acquired taste. To make, simply combine 1 can
of evaporated milk and 1 can of condensed milk in a heavy-based saucepan.
Simmer gently over low heat, stirring continually, until the mixture thickens
to a dropping consistency and you can see the bottom of the saucepan,
about 1 hour. Let cool before using.