Santuranticuy Christmas market in Cusco
Figures and decoration used for the nacimiento ceremonies are often family heirlooms. From simple to complex, nacimientos come in every size and style. Santuranticuy is a special Christmas market that was declared to be a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
It takes place at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for the whole day of Dec. 24th. This is the only day during the year that the Plaza de Armas is allowed to be used for commercial purposes. This special occasion dates back to traditions from colonial times in Peru. Women from the countryside sell natural materials for nacimientos while other booths sell everything from tourist trinkets to elaborately created handicrafts. These handicrafts most often depict nacimientos and other religious scenes or traditional festivals. Artists spend months preparing these exquisite works of art.
Celebration of Christmas in Peru
On the night of Christmas Eve, families will eat a traditional dinner together at around 11pm. They will then gather around the nacimiento to place the figure of baby Jesus into the manger once the clock strikes midnight. Christmas in Peru resembles the traditions for New Year´s Eve in other countries, as families stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve to welcome the newborn Jesus.
In every region of Peru, the population puts together individual nativity scenes in churches and homes, performs dances and plays, cooks typical dishes and produces a wide range of handicrafts. This includes nativity scenes made of Huamanga stone, retablos featuring images related to Christmas and pottery or carved gourds called “mates burilados” decorated with Yuletide scenes.
In most Andean communities, the festival continues until la Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the three wise men) on January 6, when people traditionally exchange gifts. It is said that the rural context of the arrival of the infant Christ allowed the indigenous population to easily identify with the festivities. This is highlighted in the artisan creativity, a sense of aesthetics and the religious devotion of Andean settlers.
Andean Christmas began taking on characteristics of its own, with different elements being added in each region.