Christmas Traditions in Peru

Christmas bauble with Peru

Christmas traditions in Peru date back to 1535, which is when the first Christmas was believed to be observed in the South American country.

Traditions Steeped in History

Given that the majority of the Peruvian population practices Catholicism, it comes as no surprise that they have a long and celebrated history of Christmas traditions. Some Christmas traditions in Peru are similar to those practiced in the United States and Europe, while others are very different. Here is a look at how Peruvians celebrate a typical Christmas holiday.

Christmas in…July?

Well, Peruvians don't actually celebrate Christmas in July, but December is the first month of summer in Peru. As of matter of fact, the first day of summer comes just shortly before Christmas, on December 21. So, while students in the northern hemisphere are on their Christmas or winter break, in Peru they are actually on summer break.

flip flops

So, just as many of those who live in climates that have the four seasons cannot imagine Christmas without snow, Peruvians cannot imagine (well, the climate doesn't allow it) a Christmas with snow…unless they live in the Andes of course. This is why the traditional Santa Claus, dressed in his boots and heavy red coat and hat, is not an old tradition in Peru, but an adaptation from western cultures. As a matter of fact, the Peruvian government banned Santa Claus and presumably his likeness because they believed that he was a depiction of western capitalism and greed.

Noche Buena

For those who celebrate Christmas, December 25 is the big day for gift giving and receiving. In Peru, the big day is Noche Buena or "Good Night", on December 24. On this night, after mass (for practicing Catholics) everybody goes home to open gifts and feast on an elaborately prepared Christmas meal of traditional roasted turkey. At midnight, the adults toast with champagne and children raise their glasses of hot chocolate as fireworks shine in the night sky.

Gift Giving

used under license

Though many western countries may give and receive gifts the same way, it is typical in Peru that when each gift is given to the person, the two people hug, kiss each other on the cheek and say thank you (or in this case, gracias) before the person receiving the gift tears into the wrapping paper.

In Andean regions of Peru, gifts are typically exchanged on January 6 after the celebration of the arrival of the Three Wise Men.

The Continuing Celebration

After the smaller children are put to bed, the adults continue the Noche Buena celebration until the wee hours of the morning. Many families have big house parties that include music and dancing. In order to prepare their homes for the festivities, many families will clear their living room and dining rooms of furniture in order to transform them into dance floors. Of course, after celebrating all night long, most sleep in on the morning of December 25.

Traditional Peruvian Christmas Food

Most Christmas meals served in Peru include the traditional turkey as well as tamales, salads, applesauce and a sweet bread called Panettone. The hot chocolate is usually made from scratch from melted rich dark chocolate, cinnamon and cloves.

Peruvian nativity scene
Public nativity scene in Cuzco, Peru

The Manger

The Nativity manger is a focal point of Christmas decorations in a typical Peruvian household. Most mangers feature intricate detailing and are carved out of pottery, wood or huamanga stone. The manger is what the gifts are spread around on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is for the Nativity manger to feature native animals such as llamas and alpacas instead of sheep and goats.

On Noche Buena , a child is chosen to put the figurine of Christ into the manger.

Though all that celebrate Christmas hold fast to their old and new traditions, it is always interesting to learn how other cultures celebrate the holiday. You might find that Christmas traditions in Peru work well in your home, too.

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Christmas Traditions in Peru