In Peru,the Christmas celebrations start towards the end of November. There are a variety of fairs throughout the cities where gifts of every kind are sold, and entire cities are decorated with lights which tell of the Christmas message.
During the first days of December, the nativity scene is built in homes and churches. Wheat shoots, whose seeds were planted in small pots in November, are now green enough to be put around the nativity scene. They give the scene a unique touch of the country. Various figures are placed in the crib during the month of December; however, Baby Jesus is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.
Christmas trees are decorated, and lights provide a sense of graciousness and happiness all around the place. In the churches, the celebrations take on a special tradition during Christmas.
Families gather well before midnight in order to spend time with their relatives. This gathering usually occurs at the house of the grandparents, where children are busy looking around the house for their presents. Everyone is excited about their gifts. Families enjoy playing with firecrackers as adults set them off and children watch. Lots of conversations and drinks are going on as they look at the beautiful display of the firecrackers in the air.
A day together
When the clock strikes midnight, Baby Jesus is placed in the crib. Hugs are exchanged; the head of the family says a prayer of thanksgiving and blesses the home. It is then that the children can open their presents, right before dinner. This particular meal of the year is prepared well in advance of Christmas day. It is served with turkey and a variety of fillings or stuffing. A special Christmas wine is the main drink for adults. For dessert, Peruvians like to eat the paneton, a bread made with raisins and crystallised fruit. Hot chocolate is also served. Christmas day is spent visiting families and friends. Gifts are exchanged and family reunions and gatherings are very common.
In the countryside, among the indigenous descendants of the Incan nation, Christmas is celebrated with remarkable differences. Most of the Christmas carols are sung in Queehua, the language of the indigenous people. The most common carols are called “Villivilliskaschay”, “Kacharpari Nino Jesus”, “Mamanman “, and “Chillin, Chillin Campanula”. The indigenous people imagine Baby Jesus with a skin colour similar to theirs, and dressed with bayeta (baize), a poncho and chullo made of lamb wool, and wearing ojotas as shoes.
The idea of Christmas is very simple among the Incas. They do not believe in the fanciness of lights or of visiting kings and angels. Instead, the decorations are made of wild flowers which men put in the harnesses of their animals and women braid into their hair. Their animals, which are much loved, are dressed up with colourful wool, which is woven into their manes and tails. Eight days before Christmas, children and adults run through the streets of the towns dressed for the occasion and playing musical instruments, such as pitos (whistle), arpa (harp), quena (Indian fIute), cascabeles (jingle bells), and matracas (noisemakers).
As they move about the streets, children claim loudly and with much pride that Jesus was born in Cuzco. They stop at every nativity scene to sing and dance for Baby Jesus. The smells of incense and myrrh fill the air and move the hearts of the people. Neighbours share chicha, a traditional beverage of the Andean region, and chocolate with all the singers.
The midnight mass is celebrated with music played with instruments such as challalas palchashay or the water whistle. For the people, Baby Jesus came from the Sun of the Suns to bring the beautiful message of love. Little children hang their stockings at the crib to see what Jesus wants to share with them. They feel so much love, that big hugs are shared among families with the happy expressions: ‘waykay’ and ‘waykey’, brother and sister, have a Merry Christmas!