Christmas in Peru, by Peru Country Manager Daniel Salazar:
There is no Thanksgiving in Peru, and no other holiday comes close to Christmas in terms of the excitement and commotion it causes. Yes, there is no snow. In fact, it’s summer in Peru. But that does not prevent people from wearing Santa hats. In fact, the traditional drink for the holidays is hot chocolate, which Peruvians gladly drink when it’s 80 degrees outside. We usually accompany hot chocolate with pannettone, a sweet cake/bread with raisins and dried fruit Peruvians only eat on the holydays. The story goes that Italian immigrants brought panettone, so Peruvians suppose that Italians eat pannettone for Christmas too, but I cannot assure that all Italians really do that.
Another Peruvian holiday custom is fireworks. When I was a kid, that was perhaps the most exciting thing about Christmas in Peru. Months before Christmas children would save money to buy as many fireworks as possible. We would spark the most dangerous exploding fireworks (we didn’t know how dangeours) at midnight on the 24th. So on Christmas Eve there were more fireworks that you have ever seen. Just think about it, if every kid and adult had a few fireworks, multiply that by 7 million, and you can imagine how that would look. It looked and sounded pretty awesome, but that ended in 2004, when a firework chain reaction at a market in Lima killed hundreds. Now fireworks are banned in Peru. But you can still see some legal fireworks on Christmas Eve, and it still looks pretty nice.
Unlike the U.S., in Peru everything happens at Christmas Eve. At bout 9pm families gather for the Christmas dinner with the aforementioned hot chocolate and pannettone, but also with turkey, pork, apple sauce, and “Russian” salad (made with beats, which makes it red, you get it). At midnight everyone stops eating and hugs everyone else wishing them a merry Christmas. Then people usually go outside to see the fireworks (you just look to the sky, there is no place in Lima where you cannot see them). Finally, kids run to the Christmas tree to get their presents. Just as Christ was born on a Christmas Eve, was given presents, and was himself a present, so Peruvians give presents to show their love for each other. The rest of the night kids play with their toys while adults talk. On the 25th, families will gather again for a late breakfast or lunch, and everyone just enjoys each other’s company.
Sadly, children at PPA know this traditions, but they cannot partake. They just don’t have families with whom to spend the night, or their homes are just not safe for them. That is why volunteers will join the kids at PPA this Christmas eve to share with them this special holiday. We will play with them during the day, and at night we will celebrate with them. This Christmas, it was given to us as a present the privilege of sharing the Christmas celebration with them. Next time, make sure you make their Christmas’, and your, special: spend with them Christmas in Peru. They will be on vacations for the next few months also, so you can be a belated present; they won’t mind!