December 2009: Christmas in Peru
A decorated door in Lima's hip, bohemian Barranco district.
When people in the Northern Hemisphere think of Christmas, images of snowfall, pine trees, holly and snuggling indoors by a roaring fire may spring to mind. But in Peru, the holiday falls during the start of their summer season, when the weather is mild and the only snow to be found is high in the Andes. Santa Claus—garbed in his furry red finery and hefty black boots—would look very out of place in sunny, warm Peru.
Christmas is the most important celebration of the year in Peru—a festive concoction of Colonial European traditions introduced by the Spanish Conquistadors with remnants of the ancient Incan culture. Called La Noche Buena (which literally means “the good night” in Spanish), the celebrations begin on the 24th of December. On this night, after Midnight Mass, families return home to open gifts, watch fireworks and feast on an elaborate meal, which traditionally features turkey or chicken, fresh fruits, paneton (fruitcake), hot chocolate and wine. The celebrations often continue into the morning hours.
Early Peruvians identified with the rural aspects of the Nativity scene. Today, nativities are still an important part of the Peruvian holiday culture and are frequently displayed in churches as well as people’s homes. These scenes can be quite elaborate, sometimes taking up the space of an entire room. On a much smaller (though no less artistic) scale, portable carved alter boxes called retablos feature beautiful nativity scenes carved of wood or Huamanga stone. Pottery and carved gourds called mates burilados are also decorated with yuletide scenery. In most Andean communities, Christmas festivities continue until Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the Three Wise Men) on January 6th.
We at Peruvian Connection hope you have a Feliz Navidad and a prospero Año Nuevo!
Click here to view our recipe for Empanadas
Traditional Peruvian retablos and hoiday ornaments
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