After the Spanish conquest on the Incas, indigenous Peruvians quickly began celebrating Christmas. They easily identified with the rural character of the story, with baby Jesus being born in a barn. Andean Christmas celebrations started evolving their own characteristics, and the festival and the weeks leading up to it are some of the most important of the year. Locals celebrate Christmas on December 25 - read more about typical Christmas traditions and celebrations in Peru below.
From December 10 onwards, the main Plaza de Armas in Cusco is colorfully decorated with lights and a nativity scene, and the Christmas spirit pervades the city. Locals create their own nacimientos (nativity scenes) in their homes and churches, perform plays and dances and cook traditional highland food. The Christmas market on December 23-24 known as Santorantikuy (The Buying of the Saints) is where most people purchase their nativity figurines. Rural farmers sell plants and moss here for families to decorate their nacimientos, which stay up until the Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the Three Wise Men) on January 6. In the week before Christmas, it is a delight to visit the various Cusco churches to see their elaborate nacimientos and hear their choirs.
Panetón is the Peruvian version of fruitcake and is very popular, not the butt of jokes like in North America. There are many commonalities with the American celebrations, including Christmas trees and Santa Claus decorations everywhere. A distinctive feature of Cusco Christmas though is the chocolatada. In December, communities, churches and businesses organize these events where wealthier Peruvians hand out hot chocolate and panetón to poor children. The lineups for these events are all over, and many poor rural families will come to the city and sleep on the streets for days in order to attend.
There are many local Christmas dishes, one of them is called “rocotto relleno” which is a typical Peruvian dish. The stuffed pepper is accompanied by a delicious potato gratin. This dish is a little tidbit for the whole family!
Learn more about Peruvian festivities and check out our related articles here.