In Peru, Christmas celebrations start towards the end of November. There are a variety of fairs across the country where gifts of every kind are sold, and entire cities are decorated with lights which represent the Christmas message.
During the first days of December, the nativity scene is set up in homes and churches. Wheat shoots, whose seeds were planted in small pots in November, are now green enough to be put around the nativity scene, reflecting Peru’s lush vegetation. Various figures are placed in the crib during the month of December; but Jesus is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.
Christmas trees are decorated, and lights provide a sense of graciousness and happiness. In churches, the celebrations incorporate a special tradition during Christmas: families gather well before midnight in order to spend time with their relatives. This gathering usually occurs at the house of the grandparents, where children are busy looking for their presents. Everyone is excited about their gifts and enjoys watching the beautiful display of fireworks.
A day together
When the clock strikes midnight, Jesus is placed in the crib. Family members exchange embraces, and the head of the family says a prayer of thanksgiving and blesses the home. At that moment, the children can open their presents – right before dinner. This particular meal of the year is prepared well in advance of Christmas day. People serve turkey with a variety of fillings or stuffing. A special Christmas wine is enjoyed by adults. For dessert, Peruvians like to eat the paneton, a bread made with raisins and crystallised fruit. Hot chocolate is also served. Christmas day is spent visiting families and friends. Gifts are exchanged, and family reunions and gatherings are very common.
In the countryside, among the indigenous descendants of the Inca nation, Christmas is celebrated in a remarkably different manner. Most of the Christmas carols are sung in Queehua, the language of the indigenous people. The most common carols are called “Villivilliskaschay”, “Kacharpari Nino Jesus“, “Mamanman“, and “Chillin, Chillin Campanula“. The indigenous people imagine Jesus with a skin colour similar to theirs, and dressed with bayeta (baize), a poncho, and chullo (made of lambswool), and wearing ojotas (a type of Peruvian footwear) as shoes.
The idea of Christmas is very simple among the Incas. They do not believe in the fanciness of lights, or of visiting kings and angels. Instead, the decorations are made of wild flowers which men put in the harnesses of their animals and women braid into their hair. The animals, which are much loved, are dressed up with colourful wool, which is woven into their manes and tails. Eight days before Christmas, children and adults run through the streets of the towns dressed for the occasion and playing musical instruments, such as pitos (whistle), arpa (harp), quena (Indian fIute), cascabeles (jingle bells), and matracas (noisemakers).
As they move about the streets, children claim loudly and with much pride that Jesus was born in Cuzco. They stop at every nativity scene to sing and dance for Jesus. The smells of incense and myrrh fill the air, creating a moving Christmas scene. Neighbours share chicha, a traditional beverage of the Andean region, and chocolate with all the singers. The midnight mass is celebrated with music played on instruments such as challalas palchashay, or the water whistle.
For the Peruvian people, Jesus came from the Sun of the Suns to bring the beautiful message of love. Little children hang their stockings at the crib to see what Jesus wants to share with them. They feel so much love that big hugs are shared among family members with the happy expressions ‘waykay’ and ‘waykey’, ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, ‘have a Merry Christmas!’