Gastronomic Travel during Christmas to Peru

In Peru during Christmas, as is customary in all parts of the world, the great avenues are dressed with lights. Trees are raised with colorful garlands and the publicity allusive to Santa Claus begins to bombard us from shop windows and televisions. In Peru as in all the countries of the Southern Hemisphere the first thing that can surprise an Asian, European or American tourist is seeing Christmas motifs simulating a snowy valley when we are at an average of 25 ºC. This occurs in the entire area of the Peruvian coast.

Buying a Christmas tree in shorts, shirt, and sunglasses is an image that can surprise you the first time. As for the traditions for Christmas day, these are pretty gringas of American origin. There are Christmas lights on the balconies, Christmas trees, and Father Christmas in stores, at events and of course, gifts for the children.

Eating turkey in the Peruvian Christmas

The Peruvian cuisine is one of the most awarded and delicious in the world. However, as for the Christmas celebration, people prefer to follow the American Christmas traditions. People eat the classic turkey especially in the coastal area, along with other companions such as Arabic rice or different varieties of potato salads with apple, Russian beets, pineapple, raisins, etc.

The most humble families for whom the turkey is an exclusive product eat other dishes such as the popular grilled chicken, rice with duck or rice chaufa or chicharrón of fish. In other regions of Peru and in the mountains there are families who prefer pork meat. It is accompanied by boiled potatoes, salad, and corn. The guinea pig is consumed in areas such as Ayacucho and south of the country. It can also be found in the dishes of Christmas dinners in the most humble families.

Instead of champagne, families in the Peruvian highlands often toast with chicha de jora. It is a kind of sweet fermented corn beer.

If we talk about the jungle (where it is difficult to find turkey), the star dish is the baked wild chicken with an Asian touch. It is seasoned with chili, pepper, salt and sillao (soy sauce). Amazon families also often prepare classic juanes (rice with a stick, with a piece of chicken roasted in a leaf of bijao), fruit salad or the green banana tacacho.

The chocolate is replaced in the jungle by a banana punch with milk. In the midnight toast champagne is replaced by the uvalada (liquor based on uvillas). The Panettone is a kind of sponge cake Italian origin. However, its popularity in the Peruvian Christmas is such, that we could say that it is one more part of the Peruvian gastronomy. They usually have inside pieces of candied fruit and raisins, although some also have chocolate pintitas. In recent years they have begun to give variants of the traditional panetón with flours based on quinoa or kiwicha, aguaymanto, or other Peruvian inputs.

The traditional Christmas is to eat the panettone with hot chocolate (those less concerned with diet also smear them in butter).

Christmas Carols in Peru

If at the beginning of the post we said that something that may surprise foreign tourists is to see Christmas scenes and father Christmas under an inclement sun of 25 degrees, it would not be surprising to hear carols with Latin and Caribbean rhythms such as salsa, bachata or cumbia

These carols can be heard throughout Latin America. In Europe, families gather around a fireplace or a good heater to listen to these melancholy tunes that speak about the love of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. In the southern hemisphere, it is more common to move the hips with these songs.

A classic in Peru is the children's choir known as Los Toribianitos. It brightens the homes with Christmas carols cumbiero style. The name of the group comes from Santo Toribio School in the central Lima district of Rímac (closed today). This choir has been taking these carols through hundreds of stages of Peru in different generations. Even the ox is moving the skeleton with these chords!

Christmas traditions of Advent in Peru

We indicated in previous paragraphs that the classic Christmas dinner in Peru is turkey, potato salads, and panettone with hot chocolate. One of the traditions is Advent, which marks the beginning of the Liturgical Year (from November 30 to December 24). These are the four Sundays before Christmas, in which, according to tradition, a candle should be lit.

Many Catholic houses place during this time a wreath of pine branches called Advent wreath. It is usually present on the table on Christmas day and in which the four candles are lit. The last one before starting the dinner. Some Catholic families gather around the Advent wreath to thank and read a passage from the Bible. This crown can even be taken to a temple for its blessing by a priest.

Births or Nativity Scenes in Peru

Although nativity scenes on pre-Christmas days is a tradition that is carried out in much of Catholic Europe, this practice was introduced into Latin America by the Spanish in the mid-eighteenth century. In Peru, as in the countries of the region, changes were made in some plant motifs and the clothing of the nativity scene characters. Obviously, since the climate and products are so different from the Palestinians or Europeans, some local objects such as corn, clothes or even biotypes from various places in Peru were added. There is Chincha, Piura, Cusco, Amazon or Lima.

The classic nativity scene or Peruvian birth is not as elaborate as the European one. Here there are rivers, mills, shepherds, ducks. It rather focuses on the main figures of Saint Joseph, Virgin Mary, Holy Spirit, ox, mule, wise men and of course, Child Jesus. Following also a Catholic tradition, many families hide or cover the Baby Jesus with a handkerchief, to uncover it or take it to the Portal on the same day of Christmas.

Christmas customs in the coast, mountains, and jungles of Peru

In this post, we are basically focusing on the Christmas in Lima because it is the largest city in the country. Although there are also characteristic traditions of other areas of the national geography. In Ica there is a celebration called Black Christmas. It is a tradition that comes from the celebrations of these liturgies by black slaves during the Spanish colonial period.

During Noche Buena, several groups of dancers pay homage to the Niño Negro, with dances of African origin. People also pay tribute to the Virgen del Carmen, known as "La Peloncita", taking it out on a procession. In Chiclayo (north coast) children go out into the streets dressed in angels singing Christmas carols. The bakeries sell the empanadas de Viento, round pies like bombs that cannot be missed in the Christmas tables of the city.

In the Sierra, the protagonist is the Niño Manuelito, a name that comes from Emmanuel, the name given by the Spanish priests to the mass (Dios con Nosotros). As a general rule, in the mountains, Christmas celebrations have a dual character that mixes Catholic traditions with others of pre-Hispanic origin. It is not uncommon to see images of Christian iconography next to dancers wearing devil masks or other characters typical of the colonial era.

In the Plaza de Armas of Cusco, they make a great fair on Christmas Eve. The artisans, farmers, and shepherds sell their products to locals and visitors. El Niño Manuelito or Niño del Espino can be purchased at several craft stalls in the area. Exoticism triumphs in the jungle. A beautiful tradition consists of the so-called Los Pastorcitos, where the children go into all the houses to see the births of the families. The children choose the best of them, who is later visited and rewarded by a delegation of adults from the city.

The Pastoreadas Navideñas, on the other hand, is a tradition in which the inhabitants of several jungle areas dress in biblical characters. They walk the streets surrounded by Amazon with rhythms and drums, following the supposed star of Bethlehem to meet the Child Jesus.

Exchange of gifts at Christmas in Peru

The exchange of gifts at Christmas has American influences. All the gifts are piled up at the foot of the tree with the names of all the members of the family. After dinner, a relative approaches the feet of the tree and begins to distribute the presents.

If there are still small children in the family, there are parents who send them to sleep early and wake them up at midnight to surprise them with the gifts that Santa Claus has left minutes before. Other parents take a Santa Claus or disguise a relative to give the gifts after finishing the dinner.

Santa Claus is the only one who brings gifts to Peruvians, and there are no other characters that perform this task, such as The Magi in Spain or other mythological characters around the world. In short, the Christmas customs in Peru are as rich and varied as the country has regions. Diversity is part of the beauty of these traditions. Happy Holidays!
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