Are you spending the holidays in Peru this year, or are you just curious to learn more about Christmas traditions in Peru? Be my guest. With the first Christmas Celebrations in Peru taking place in 1535, Peru has a long history of celebrating Christmas. Peru’s main Christmas celebrations occur on Dec 24th, on Christmas Eve (‘Noche Buena’). Most Peruvians will go to church to the Rooster Mass and have dinner after midnight. But there is more, as Peru has some fun Christmas traditions. If you are travelling in Peru, you will soak up the cheerful Christmas vibe – there is a lot to do and see in Peru. Check out these 10 Quick Facts about Christmas in Peru.
10 Quick Facts about Christmas in Peru
Early December: Chocolatadas & Christmas decoraciones in Peru
# 1 Chocolatadas
Early December, the Christmas celebrations in Peru start with Christmas decorations and chocolatadas. Chocolatadas are ‘social Christmas Events’ organized by local companies or institutions where they give a Christmas present and a hot chocolate to those who have less. That’s where the name comes from (“chocolatadas”): a large quantity of chocolate is given in glasses and cups to children and others; many of them travelled extensively from the higher located villages in the Andes to wait in a long line for this simple pleasure. Sometimes they get a slice of panettone (see more below: a cake filled with dried fruit) and small gifts for the little ones. You will see the chocolatadas mainly in the Cusco region.
# 2 Peruvian Christmas Decorations
Christmas scenes are very common in Peru. Some of the typical nativity scenes are small enough to fit on a window shelf, while others can take up an entire space, inside or outside. The Peruvian municipalities built outdoor nacimientos, e.g. there is a big Christmas scene on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
In Peru, you will also see the typical internationally known Christmas decorations: Christmas lights, the Christmas tree with baubles and garlands. The Plaza de Armas in Lima has a huge Christmas tree.
# 3 El niño Jesús
For those familiar with Christmas roots, it’s no surprise that a primarily Catholic country like Peru has many religious traditions. One of these traditions is the figure of “the child Jesus“, called Niño Manuelito. At the Christmas markets (and in the houses, the shops, the restaurants), you can see El Nino Manuelito represented in various ways: smiling, tired, pensive, playful and evocative or crawling. You will notice that Niño Manuelito always has a bleeding foot, presenting the tortures he would suffer in his adult life. This place can be a bit scary for tourists, but it is an integral part of the decorations and celebrations in Cusco.
Diciembre 24: Christmas Eve in Peru
# 4 Mercado Santurantikuy in Cusco
Are you in Cusco? If so, you are lucky to visit Peru’s most famous Christmas market, the Santurantikuy Market. Artisans come from all over the country to sell their creations at this crowded and exciting market. It is said that acquiring one of the amulets is equivalent to making a wish. Do you want to travel next year? Buy an aeroplane charm. Do you want to get married? Buy a charm that looks like a bride or groom, and so on.
N.B. Due to the corona restrictions, the Santurantikuy market will be much smaller this year and take place on several days, from Dec 19th till Dec 24th, with different stands every day.
# 5 Punch
As Christmas Eve falls, the shadows widen, the temperature drops (in the Andes), and the excitement grows. So if you need something to wake you up after a long day of shopping or, perhaps, the cold is bad enough for you, stop by one of the street vendors and buy a warm “punch” or “ponche de leche”. The typical Christmas punch is prepared with egg, milk, sugar, cream, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and brandy.
# 6 Panetón
If you are spending Christmas in Peru, you will undoubtedly see (and eat) the traditional Peruvian ‘Christmas bread’ or Panetón. Peruvians eat it in December for breakfast or at lunch or dinner, as a dessert, or in between. Panetón is a traditional bread/cake filled with dried fruits. This delicious treat originates from Italy. In Peru, it is served with Peruvian hot chocolate (coffee or tea). The most famous brands of Panetón are Todino, D’Onofrio and Motta.
# 7 La Misa de Gallo
At 10:00 p.m. on December 24, many Peruvian families gather in the church to begin their family celebrations with the Misa de Gallo. The Rooster mass initially took place as the clock strikes midnight, the signal to start the celebrations to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.
# 8 Christmas Dinner in Peru
Christmas Dinner in Peru – as well as in most Latin American countries – takes place on Christmas Eve, after the Rooster Mass. (Depending on your family traditions, some families have dinner before the mass). The classic dishes you’ll find on the Peruvian Christmas table are Turkey or Pork, “Ensalada Rusa” and other salads, “Arroz Arabe”, potatoes puree, sweet potato puree, apple puree, and for dessert: hot chocolate and panettone. Other drinks include champagne, wine, beer, and hot chocolate with cinnamon and cloves for the kids.
After dinner, gifts are given to children (and sometimes to adults). Then, when the children go to bed, usually after midnight, the music and dancing begin that will last until Christmas morning.
# 9 Fire Works
On Christmas Eve, you can hear fireworks throughout Peru. Technically, it is illegal, but that will not stop the Peruvians from having fun while lighting their fireworks. If you see it for the first time, you might get confused for a moment, thinking it’s New Year’s Eve.
Diciembre 25: Christmas Day in Peru
# 10 Christmas Gifts
Many children wake up to open their presents and eat cookies as Christmas rolls around, but most Peruvians might still be sleeping: Christmas was mainly celebrated the day before. So Christmas day is quiet in Cusco, and people are saving themselves for the next holiday: The New Year.
The Christmas decorations will remain until January 6, Bajada de Reyes: the day when the three Wise Men arrive to give their gifts to the baby born. This is the last echo of the holiday season, and then Peru returns to normal.
Where to spend Christmas in Peru?
What are the best places to spend Christmas in Peru?
- You could spend Christmas in Lima and enjoy the decorated modern streets of Miraflores or maybe go for a more traditional Peruvian location like Lake Titicaca or the colonial city of Arequipa. Christmas in Lima – as the Peruvian capital is located on the coast – is an excellent place to escape the cold.
- If you’re looking for a more relaxed Christmas getting away from it all, you can escape to the breath-taking Sacred Valley of the Incas between Cusco and Machu Picchu.
- Choose to soak up the Christmas spirit in Cusco and enjoy a magical Christmas time in the former capital of the Inca Empire and visit the famous Christmas markets.
- Are you looking for something special? Spend Christmas Day in the magical Inca citadel Machu Picchu, or camping in the Andean mountains doing a hike to Machu Picchu. Or, you wake up with the sounds of the birds during your tour to the Peruvian rainforest.
Any questions about traveling in Peru duringh the Christmas Holidays?
Contact the Dos Manos Peru trip advisors
Here you can find some great tips:
What to do if you travel to Peru with Christmas