Christmas in Peru

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.

Nativity scenes are common in Peru; sometimes they are really huge (even in private houses) and elaborate. Just as in the Czech Republic we tend to transform the Bethlehem landscape ideally to our ideas and dress it in snow veils, in Peruvian nativity scenes we often (especially in the Andes) find llamas and alpacas instead of the donkeys and camels mentioned in the Bible. Baby Jesus is only placed into the Bethlehem scene after the midnight of the 24th.


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Christmas Dinner

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.


(To find more photographs of the traditional Christmas dishes, please visit: taste-of-peru.com)

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.


(To find more photographs of the traditional Christmas dishes, please visit: taste-of-peru.com)

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.

Christmas Traditions

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.

Some Could Not Make It “Home for Christmas”

My Christmas in Peru was greatly influenced by the strike of the agricultures who – several days before Christmas – started blocking the only highway (and often at places the only road) in both ways – to the North and to the South (asking the government for better working conditions and salaries). We needed to go to the North, to Motupe, to spend the Christmas with the family of my partner. On the 23rd (the last day when the transport of private cars was allowed before Christmas – due to the Covid State of Emergency) we set off at 8 am in our car, bringing also our friend from Colombia who lives in Lima.

We only arrived to Motupe (normally a six-hour-ride) at 5 am on the 24th! And we were lucky to arrive. Others did not have the luck we had.

All the saints were helping us, indeed. First, we were stuck in the desert by the highway for several hours. Second, we managed to escape to get some food and returned to the blocked part. This time, a ray of “higher” light shone our way and we managed to keep on driving through the opposite direction. When we got to a part when the road turned into one way only, two trucks let us (and other private cars) pass into some fields and the experienced truck drivers explained to us in short that there is a way to continue (and avoid the blocked part of the highway – circa 30 km). And there was, though in the night often difficult to see and at other parts congested as many cars (also from the other direction) had the same idea of passing through the fields, but the dirt road was barely sufficient for a one-direction pass. The people from the villages were helping, opening the gates of their lands to allow us to continue driving and we witnessed the rescue of three people who fell into an irrigation canal full of wild water. Sadly, in another place we were told the same happened to another car that was giving way to a car in the opposite direction and in the pure darkness did not see well – none of the crew survived.

We were also helped by a police officer at around 3 am in the morning who let us continue without a fine (600 000 euros) at a time when the curfew was already in force. He even apologized that the police cannot do much about the situation of the strike which went totally out of control and brought upon a lot of violence, arms, tear gas etc.

Unfortunately, we also experienced several moments when people from the towns by the highway, where the strike was already over, built stone barriers on the road and demanded (with stones in their hands, threatening to damage the cars passing) money for the pass. Often, they were OK with a sol or two which sadly proves that this desperate acting was brought upon by poverty.

The 21 hours on the road for me was the greatest spiritual school I’ve ever been in.

The strike only terminated in the night hours of the 24th which means that many people did not make it to their homes to be there for Christmas. A few lost their lives because of the strike and there shall be no more Christmases for them.

Christmas Visit of the Pómac

On the 26th my partner, his mom and I went on a trip to the Historic and Natural Sanctuary of the Pómac forest where there are many species of trees (mainly carob tress) and birds and where one can admire the huacas (archaeological remains of ritual places) of the Sicán pre-Inka culture and at night even pumas.  

One thought on “Christmas in Peru

  1. „Kdyz jsme prechazeli hranice, na ekvadorske strane vedla az k hranicim prasna cesta a na peruanske strane se najednou promenila v asfaltovou silnici. Bylo horko, ale my museli slapat po svych. Tady kvuli paserakum drog nikdo moc nestavi. Hned po vstupu do Peru kamarada kousl poulicni pes, takze musel nekolik mesicu chodit na vakciny proti vztekline, coz v dobe Covidu a pri vsech presunech bylo teda neco. Jaen sam o sobe je dost nebezpecne mesto, tak jsme byli docela vyklepani, kdyz jsme tam na venku museli stravit prvni noc, protoze jsme nenasli ubytovani. Bylo to zajimave privitani v Peru.“

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