Peru is a country mixed with many traditions stemming from the Incas and, later, from the Spanish conquest. They exist in the confluence of traditions that is Cusco. Despite the different traditions, Peru is still a predominately Roman Catholic country, which means they go all in on the Christmas festivities. Check out our glimpse into the life and traditions of Peruvians during the holidays.
Christmas Eve in Peru is refferred to as Noche Buena (the good night). In North America and Europe, Christmas is celebrated, obviously, on Christmas Day. Christmas is the day filled with presents and drinking and hanging out with the family. In Peru, however, December 24 at midnight is when the partying really gets started.
Peru is predominately a Roman Catholic country with strong religious convictions. Practicing Catholics will attend mass on December 24 at around 9–10 p.m., and then return home to start getting things cranked up. This time frame is the big party in Peru—one of the best all year round—but a party that is usually confined to the home. After mass it’s time for presents and roasted turkey and way too much paneton. At midnight there are toasts of champaign and then one of the biggest fireworks celebrations that you’ll have ever seen.
The weeks—and especially the days—leading up to Noche Buena, you’ll find people walking around selling fireworks. Everywhere. They’ll be on the street corner, coming into restaurants, and have little stands all filled with the best and most fun and definitely most dangerous fireworks you can buy—and everyone buys them. You have to buy as many as you can to participate in a night that is similar to July 4 in the United States, but with religious overtones. No matter where you’ll be, the sky will be alight with magic—explosions and colors exploding across the skies. Literally, every house in Peru will be firing something off into the sky.
The traditions aren’t just limited to fireworks and attending church—that’s definitely not everything. One of Peru’s most fanatic traditions is the wild, waist-expanding consumption of paneton, the loaf of Italian sweet bread. It is stoked in every store in Peru and, in a lot of cases, takes up entire aisles and walls. You’d think that there would be no possible way to consume that amount of dough, but sure enough, as the holidays wind down, most, if not all, the paneton has been purchased.
Nativity scenes are very popular and each city will have one large one erected in the main plaza. It is a popular spot to take your family during the holidays and becomes a hotspot for commerce with vendors selling toys, popcorn, sweets and hot chocolate, one of their favorite drinks during the holidays. Hot chocolate will be sold in every public space during the holidays, even though Christmas falls during Peru’s summer. A popular North American and European tradition that Peruvians don’t follow as rigorously is tree-buying and decorating. There are fake trees you can buy, but to put a freshly cut tree in your living room isn’t practiced.