Episode 65: La Nochebuena y Navidad, Christmas in Peru!

Merry Christmas! \(^_^)/ December 25th is right around the corner, and as part of our yearly tradition of enjoying the holidays, todays' episode will focus on how Christmas is celebrated in the Spanish-speaking country of Peru!

 
 

Don't forget to check out the end of the episode, as instead of a Cultural Tip I have an update for Spanish Answers regarding 2022!


*One thing to remember: Peru is located in the Southern Hemisphere, so while we in the Northern Hemisphere often think of Christmastime as a time of snow and cozy fires, etc., Peruvians celebrate Christmas in the middle of their summer!


General Christmas Festivities

While there are many similarities between how Peru and the US celebrate Christmas, they also have their own, unique holiday flare. For example, while some Peruvians will have Christmas trees (fake ones, not real!), the real centerpiece of the holiday is the nativity scene.


Belenes / Pesebres / Nacimientos

In Spanish, the nativity scenes are called Pesebres (un pesebre = manger), Nacimientos or Belenes (un belén / nacimiento = nativity scene). The entire living room will be centered around the family's belén. This, instead of the Christmas tree, is where gifts are put, and part of the Christmas tradition is leaving the manger empty to await the baby Jesus on Noche Buena. But we'll get into that in a little bit! For now, just know that the nativity scenes are pretty important, and while they may have the traditional animals (e.g., cows, sheep, etc.), they might also have a more Andean twist with alpacas, llamas, and Mary and Joseph wearing indigenous clothing. :)


But belenes aren't just reserved for the home. Every city has its own large nativity scene placed in its main plaza. Vendors will set up shop for the season, and people will visit with their families.


Important Events

Here are two interesting events that take place in various Peruvian cities!

  1. Santuranticuy: Quechua for "the selling of saints", Santuranticuy is a Christmas Market in Cusco that takes place December 24th and 25th in the Plaza de Armas. Artisans from all over the country come to sell their crafts (generally related to Christmas, the saints, or other religious items). There are also, of course, food vendors. :)

  2. Takanakuy: Also known as Peru Christmas Fights, this strange event takes place in a province near Cusco, Chumbivilcas Province, on December 25th. It's a time of alcohol, dancing, and - believe it or not - actual fighting to settle scores and/or find out who is the toughest.

Other Festivities

There are also coastal folk dances, and the southern Canete province uses zapateo, or tap-dancing, to enjoy la Navidad. It is an important part of afro-Peruvian culture. You can see some examples of zapateo in the video below!

Now, some of the instruments involved in this style of music include una quijada de burro and cajón. The first one, the quijada de burro, is literally a donkey's jawbone! I was blown away when I first realized that. If you want to learn more about that instrument, check out this short video here. It is SO cool!! You can also check out another video here that highlights three key instruments for afro-Peruvian music: el cajón, la cajita, and la quijada de burro. You can hear what all three like sound together for el Festejo, an important Peruvian dance. I found a video called Festejo de Navidad, which apparently is a traditional, afro-Peruvian Christmas carol, and have included it below. Seriously, this entire segment sent me down such a rabbit hole, but it was too cool to pass up! I hope you enjoy this section as much as I did researching it!


La Noche Buena

In Peru, Christmas Eve, or La Noche Buena (literally, the Good Night) is when Peruvians have their big, family Christmas party! It begins with a late-night mass on December 24th called the Misa de Gallo, or Rooster Mass (I have no idea why it is called that), which begins about 10 pm. Afterwards, everyone returns home and at midnight the festivities begin. At the stroke of 12, someone - from what I've read, generally the youngest child - will place the baby Jesus in the manger. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) shoots fireworks off to celebrate the arrival of Christmas day. This is also when you might toast the occasion with champagne, and the children will drink hot chocolate. After they watch the lovely fireworks, or fuegos artificiales, it's time to head back inside for dinner and gifts! Based on what I've read, this also might be when you place the baby Jesus in His manger.


Now, Peru does celebrate Santa Claus, although I'm not sure just how similar their rituals are to those in the US. I could only find a few references, but it sounds like maybe he is the one who brings the gifts for the children, but I don't know. If you have more information, please let me know!


While children will go to bed after all of this, the adults will stay up later, potentially greeting the Christmas sun. And so, December 25th - Christmas Day - is mainly a day of relaxing, recovering, and spending a quiet day at home or out with family.


Christmas Dinner

So what, you might be asking, does this delicious dinner look like? Well, depending on where you're at in Peru, it could be turkey, pavo, pollo a la brasa (grilled chicken), or lechón (roast suckling pig). While the most common dish seems to be turkey, small coastal towns might instead prepare fish, the Amazonian jungle communities will do wild chicken, and the Andean highlands eat pachamanca. Pachamanca is Quechua for "earth oven", and you basically take your meat and vegetables and cook them via a covered hole in the ground! I recommend checking out these links here and here, as they explain the process while also giving you visual insights to the method and culture. It sounds delicious, and looks AMAZING!


For side dishes, you might have applesauce, puré de papas (kind of like mashed potatoes, but it looks way creamier. I found a Peruvian recipe - in Spanish - here), and tamales (I found a recipe for Peruvian Tamales, with the option to read it in Spanish here). If you want to do a deeper dive on Peruvian Christmas food, check out this post from Eat Peru, a food blog I just discovered while writing this episode (did I subscribe to it? You betcha!).


They also have a delicious-looking Panetón recipe, which is kind of like a Christmas fruit cake, except that instead of the US fruit cake that no one ever wants to eat, the Peruvian fruit cake is a national favorite! This dessert originally comes from Italy and is filled with green and red dried fruits. (Another festive dessert is Alfajores, which are basically cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche, or manjar blanco, as it's called in Peru. Eat Peru had another recipe for this treat as well! Am I going to be doing some baking here? Probably not around this Christmas - there is way, way too much to do! - But I'm definitely printing out these recipes to try later! Because who could pass up panetón or alfajores? ;) I cannot.)


While eating Panetón, Peruvians will often drink hot chocolate. This is a bit different from what we're used to in the US. For one thing, it is MUCH more flavorful! It has many spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and even star anise. (Yes, Eat Peru had a recipe for this as well!)


On a side note: Peruvians really, really enjoy their hot chocolate! During the Christmas season, people will host chocolatadas, social events where people get together specifically to drink hot chocolate. The proceeds will sometimes help local causes, or these events will be a way to reach out and give to local, less well-off communities. It's a pretty cool idea.


Bajada de Reyes

In Peru, Christmas doesn't end on December 25th! The last part of the Christmas season is January 6th, known as Bajada de Reyes, or Epiphany. This is the day that people take down their decorations. As you may know from other episodes, Epiphany is also the day when the Three Wise Men come. In Lima, the Three Wise Men (a.k.a., three mounted and dressed up policemen) ride through the city and bring gifts to the Municipality of Lima in the Plaza Mayor. For some parts of Peru, this is the day that children get to open their gifts, not Christmas. Not gonna lie, as a kid, it would have been very difficult to wait until January 6th to open my gifts! :D


And that concludes our trip through Peru's Christmas season! Please send me a note if you try any of the recipes - I'd love to hear from you on how they turned out, did they taste good, and would you make them again?


Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!

 

Podcast/Blog Update!

Just as I did last year, I'll be taking a break at the beginning of the 2022 to work on episode ideas and other fun things! So this is our last episode of 2021 for Spanish Answers. I hope you have a merry Christmas, a great New Year, and a blessed 2022! See you in March!

 

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