Christmas is a special time in South America and in Peru, Christmas is a very important holiday since a large majority of Peruvians are Christian. With such a large population, Christmas is one of the most important times of the year in Peru.
While most celebrations are similar to those in Europe and North America, there are some unique traditions that reflect the nation's identity and history. These traditions make Peru a very special place to spend the holidays, even if you aren't religious. It's difficult not to get caught up in the beauty of Christmas in Peru, which makes it a great time to immerse yourself in the culture. Traveling during the Christmas holidays is a fantastic way to experience a slice of life in Peru.
Traditional Christmas in Peru
North Americans typically celebrate Christmas on December 25. However, in Peru along with other South American countries like Venezuela and Bolivia, Peruvians make a bigger deal out of Noche Buena or Christmas Eve.
Attending church is a big part of the Christmas Eve celebration. Peruvians typically attend the misa de gallo or Rooster Mass, which usually begins at 10 p.m., which is actually earlier than some other South American countries.
After mass, some households begin their cena de Navidad (Christmas dinner) at midnight, while others first let the children open their gifts. Either way, both the meal and the opening of gifts take place around this time (with some exceptions in the Andean region, where gifts are opened on January 6 during Epiphany, or the Adoración de Reyes Magos).
After dinner on Christmas Eve, many take to the streets to greet friends and neighbors and continue the celebrations. Although technically illegal, fireworks are abundant and can be seen throughout the night.
Christmas Decorations in Peru
In Peru the nativity scene is very popular and can be found in just about every home. These scenes are often large and elaborate (sometimes taking up an entire wall), featuring statues of the Three Wise Men, Jesus in the manger, and other nativity figures. On occasion, you'll find an Andean twist on the traditional scene with llamas and alpacas replacing the biblical images of donkeys and camels.
Smaller scenes are known as retablos and are a form of folk art with paintings and carvings of religious events in stone or wood. Retablos are three-dimensional scenes, normally contained within a rectangular box with two doors on the front. You’ll see them on sale in markets and souvenir shops throughout the year, especially in the mountainous regions of Peru. The scenes contained within a retablo may depict historic or religious events or simple scenes of everyday life, but Christmas retablos typically depict the manger scene.
Christmas Food in Peru
As it does around the world, food plays an important role in Peruvian Christmas celebrations. After mass, it is common for families to sit down to a traditional roast turkey dinner or lechón (roast suckling pig) with a variety of salads and side dishes such as apple sauce and tamales. There are regional variations as well, such as fish dishes on the coast, a classic pachamanca in the highlands. or a roasted wild chicken (gallina al horno) in the jungle.
Adults toast the evening with champagne and children drink hot chocolate with cinnamon and cloves. For dessert, Peruvians eat panetón (panettone), the Italian-style fruit cake.
Social events called chocolatadas involve people gathering to drink hot chocolate and are another favorite occasion of the holiday season in Peru. Churches and other community organizations host chocolatadas for poor communities, giving free hot chocolate (and panetón) to families as a charitable festive treat.
Traveling in Peru During Christmas
Peruvians are on the move in the days just before and after Christmas, traveling by bus or domestic airline to or from home. Bus and plane tickets sell out quickly and companies are likely to raise their prices. If you want to travel during the Christmas period, it’s a good idea to buy your tickets at least a few days in advance.
December 25 is a national holiday in Peru, so many businesses and services shut at midday on December 24 and don't reopen until December 26.