Christmas in Peru comes after the summer solstice, when the majority of the vast country is experiencing heat and summer vibes. Perhaps for that reason there is not much space for contemplation. Christmas is rather a fiesta similar to that of the New Year, including lots of drinking and fireworks, or more likely firecrackers.
The Advent time is nothing big here. There are no Advent concerts like in Central Europe and nobody is baking Christmas cookies or Christmas cakes. The decorations are often far from artisanal, most of them are plastic, including the trees. Most people would decorate their houses with the images of Santa Clause, blatant Christmas chains and huge amounts of colourful lights. The square of every town and village is decorated too and there are sections where private companies (willing to pay to the municipality) can place their Christmas displays as a form of promo.
It traditionally includes turkey (often bought alive at the markets – a sad thing to see the birds with their legs tied up, waiting in their excrements, in silence, to be chosen to have their head chopped off), sometimes fish or roasted pig, in the jungle often roasted chicken (gallina al horno), tamales (leaves stuffed with corn and vegetables), salads and a sweet sauce made of apple, pineapple and grapes.
For the desserts, the Peruvians eat panettone, which is also traditional for Italian Christmas (after all, it comes from Milan) and other South American countries, butter biscuits and sweet empanadas. They drink sparkling wine and at the end of the dinner the traditional Peruvian chocolate with cinnamon and cloves is served.
Drinking chocolate, which has deep ritual roots in Peru and other South and Central American countries, is generally part of social events called chocolatadas in the run-up to Christmas and at Christmas, when neighbours host their friends or when churches, community organizations, etc. distribute hot chocolate and panettone as a charity.
These festive delicacies are often not prepared at home, but bought in supermarkets or markets. As for the turkey, some families would prefer to have it done in the Chinese Chifas and delivered to their house.
There are not many. No slicing of the apple, throwing the slipper to see if one will get married or will travel next year, no nutshell boats.
In fact, the 24th is a normal working day and so is the 26th (so, forget about the Boxing Day). The only day which is a holiday is the 25th. On the night of the 24th people tend to get quite drunk and as the fiesta basically starts at midnight (allegedly because Jesus was born just at that time), it continues till late morning hours.
A huge disappointment is that in some families gifts are only given to children! Nothing for the adults! So, if you are invited to spend Peruvian Christmas in a family where there are no kids and if this family is one of those that only gets gifts for children, you might shed a tear as there is NOTHING under the Christmas tree.
The night of the 24th, as said above, is the only time of the Christmas celebration. It is called Buena Noche. Catholic Peruvians usually attend the misa de gallo (similar to the midnight mass), which begins in most regions at 22:00 (which is earlier than in other South American countries). It is only after the mass that the dinner is served (so it is not about the rising of the first star) and so it begins only at 24:00. Some people thus eat something little before going to church not to have their stomach rumbling during the mass.
The gifts are unwrapped after coming from the church – before the dinner – or after the dinner, depending on each family. In the Andes, gifts are given only on the Three Kings. When the dinner is over, families – often with children – take to the streets to greet their friends and neighbours and continue the celebrations, which include fireworks – or more likely, sadly for the street cats and dogs that are abundant here – the firecrackers.
In some families, inspired by the final part of the posadas that happen in Mexico, they buy the piñata (a vessel made of crepe paper, more rarely clay, filled with sweets, which has seven tips that represent the deadly sins) which hangs from the ceiling or a branch of a tree and the kids in the family (sometimes even the kids from the neighbourhood or from the families of friends) are invited to break the vessel (while blindfolded) and thus gain a huge amount of sweets that fall down after the breaking.
Christmas baskets of boxes have a huge tradition in Peru. These food packages (sometimes places in a paper box, sometimes in a decorative basket) include some delicacies such as sparkling wine, drinking chocolate, marshmallows or pickled peaches but also common foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, milk, dried peas and lentils. You may get one from your friends, colleagues, the company you work for or even your family.
Takanakuy – When the Blood is Boiling
Takanakuy (Quechua for “when the blood is boiling”) is an annual fighting festival in the remote Andean village of Santo Tomás, in Chumbivilcas, Peru. In this Christmas-time tradition, community members settle the year’s conflicts – from property disputes to family quarrels – through hand-to-hand combat. The practice is thought to have its origins in the colonial period, and is deeply imbued with code and ritual; it is both a space to resolve questions of honor, and a chance to show off physical strength in front of the community.
The participants in these fights hide their faces with elaborate masks and even alter their voices so as not to be recognized before the fight begins. The fight happens in open air with spectators viewwing and cheering and ends when one person is on the ground, although the referee can stop the action earlier if necessary. Takanakuy always ends with a handshake and, sometimes, a smile and the champions earn honorary titles that stay with them in later years.
Representative community members are selected who are responsible for organizing a series of dances, parades and ceremonies connected to Takanakuy. The festivities include a procession to honor baby Jesus.