Peru is the land of the Incas and their cultures and traditions go back hundreds of years. Then the Spaniards invaded and colonized the land and converted tribes to Christianity. Even then, all rites and religious festivals like Corpus Christi and Christmas celebrations have a distinctly regional flavor. When it comes to Christmas celebrations, it can be quite exotic and different from what one sees in the West. Christmas occurs at the height of summer so it is a Christmas without snow.

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The Christmas Eve or Noche Buena

The Spanish introduced people to Christianity sometime around the 1500s. Unlike in other parts of the world Christmas is celebrated with pomp and pageantry on the 24th of December, known as Noche Buena or the Good Night. Evening is the time when the celebrations start with the ritual Mass at the local church. The mass is known as the Rooster Mass and begins at 10 PM. After Mass people return to their homes to open gifts and this is followed by champagne for adults and hot chocolate for the children. Dinner is usually turkey, Paneton and other local foods including tamales. Cake with a fruit center known as the Paneton is the specialty of Christmas. Children then enjoy bursting of fireworks. This done, the adults start celebrations with dances that last till the early hours of Christmas.

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While western homes emphasize Christmas trees and their decoration you will find that Peruvians place importance on the Nativity scene. Known as pesebre, this recreation of the scene of the birth of the Christ is done in painstaking detail with the use of local pottery, stone and grass manger. One member of the family formally places a figurine of the Christ known as Nino Manuelito or baby Jesus in the manger. However, trees are now making their presence felt in the Christmas decorations. Peruvians go out of their way to set up the Nativity scene in their living room. It is intricate and includes a statue of the child Jesus and three wise men in addition to animals. In Peru, they use Llamas and Alpacas instead of donkeys, camels and oxen. Some people may create a detailed nativity scene while others can buy retablos, a box in which the scene is set up. You just place it in your living room.

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While gifts are traditionally exchanged on the 24th night, it is a ritual in the Andean regions to let the gifts be until the 6th of January, the Epiphany day of the arrival of the three wise men who symbolically brought gifts for the child Christ.

Drinking chocolate known as chocolatada and distributing it to the poor and needy who line the streets is another important ritual. Rich men and churches organize chocolatadas and distribute hot chocolate with biscocho, a sweet bread with fruits to people.  Chocolatadas symbolizes the Christmas spirit of giving of gifts to the poor.

Santa Claus is not a prominent figure in Peruvian Christmas celebrations since the government banned him on various grounds. However, it is up to the people. Some believe and presents are opened on Christmas eve. For those who do not believe, the day for opening the gifts is 6th January.

While people in other parts of the world wake up early on Christmas day to open gifts and go to Church, people in Peru are sleeping late because of the previous night’s revelry.

Since Christmas coincides with the summer break children and adults alike are free to devote time and energy to celebrate it with gusto.

It is common to find children forming choirs and walking around singing Christmas carols. The group has a shepherd and the three Kings or Magi.

Girls dress up in a skirt and blouse with spangles and ribbons as well as a handkerchief on the front. This is topped with a hat with ribbons.


For most people Christmas means roast turkey with tamales, salads and sauces. Some might opt for chicken instead while some even have a roast suckling pig. The traditional cake is Paneton, a bread with raisins and candied fruit. The paneton is usually accompanied with hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and cloves. Tamales for Christmas are special with fillings of meat, cheese and chilli. Rosca de Reyes or the King’s Ring is a round sweet bread served on Epiphany day, 6th January, marking end of celebrations. The Rosca de Reyes usually has a tiny figure of Christ hidden inside. Whoever gets it is considered to be lucky. The midnight Christmas meal is known as Cena de Navidad.

 Image Credits to Wikipedia

Image Credits to Wikipedia

Christmas in the Andes

Christians in Cusco in the Andes celebrate Christmas, endowing it with Incan flavor of dances and plays. A special market known as the Santurantikuy (buying of saints) springs up and farm people gather to sell plants and mosses used in nativity scenes. Epiphany day on 6th January has special significance since the day coincides with the taking of power of the varayoc. People gather and take out a procession headed by the image of the Christ Child and San Isidro.

Image Credits to Wikipedia

Image Credits to Wikipedia

Worthy of special mention is the Christmas celebration of Takanakuy. While people dance, put on costumes and celebrate as is usual in the Andean regions and in the plains, the Takanakuy is a special event in Cusco. The world beans “when the blood is boiling”.  It is a way to get rid of social tensions and stress. Fights are organized and there are referees supervising matches. Fights usually last only about a minute or so. Anyone can participate, even teenagers and women. People settle grievances against neighbors or family members in an amicable way during the short fight.

Image Credits to Wikipedia

Image Credits to Wikipedia

Christmas in Peru has a festive, carnival air and one cannot but help become immersed on the Eve. You are likely to stay awake all night, dancing, eating and roaming the streets. Enjoy Christmas in the most exotic way you never imagined before.

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