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Published on: Culture

Christmas Traditions in Peru: A Festive Deep Dive

Did you know that while many of us eagerly await Santa Claus during the festive season, Peruvians often anticipate a visit from Baby Jesus, known locally as ‘Niño Manuelito’? Quite the revelation, isn’t it? Delve into the mesmerizing world of Christmas in Peru and you’ll find it dotted with such unique customs. While the universal essence of love, joy, and unity binds Christmas celebrations worldwide, the flavors and traditions vary, painting a colorful tapestry of cultural vibrancy.

In Peru, the blend of ancient Incan traditions with Spanish colonial influences has birthed a series of enchanting customs that beckon the curious soul. From bustling markets selling intricate nativity scenes to communities in Southern Peru settling scores with friendly fistfights, every Peruvian Christmas tradition tells a story. So, lace up your boots, sip on some hot chocolate, and let’s embark on a fascinating journey exploring the Christmas traditions in Peru.

Key Elements of Christmas in Peru

Noche Buena: More Than Just “Good Night”

Noche Buena, which translates to “Good Night”, isn’t just any Christmas Eve in Peru. Here, noche buena is the pinnacle of Christmas celebrations. Families gather, candles are lit, and streets come alive with the spirit of Christmas. As the clock strikes midnight, fireworks light up the sky, signifying the birth of Baby Jesus.

Decorations and Symbolism

While Christmas trees are gaining popularity, the true centerpiece of Christmas decorations in Peru is the nativity scene. Handcrafted with intricate details, these scenes not only depict Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph but also include Peruvian elements like llamas or local houses. And, just like a few traditional foods that grace the dinner table, these nativity scenes also tell a story!

Who Brings the Presents?

Forget Santa Claus; in Peru, it’s the Baby Jesus who is the main gift-bringer. While Santa, locally referred to as ‘Papa Noel’, does make an appearance, it’s the image of Jesus that remains central to Peru’s gift-giving traditions.


In some parts of Peru, it’s customary to gift each other intricate, handmade straw dolls as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune for the upcoming year. These dolls often find a place of honor amidst the nativity scenes in Peruvian households.

Delving Deeper: Unique Christmas Traditions in Peru

Misa de Gallo: A Midnight Marvel

While many are familiar with midnight masses during Christmas Eve, in Peru, it’s known as Misa de Gallo, or “Rooster Mass”. The churches in Peru, especially in places like Cusco’s Plaza de Armas, resonate with joyous hymns and prayers, marking the beginning of Christmas Day.

Festive Fights? Only in Chumbivilcas!

Now here’s a twist! In the Chumbivilcas province in Southern Peru, there’s a tradition known as ‘Takanakuy’. On December 25th, residents fight out their differences in organized fist fights. This way, they start the next year on a clean slate, having resolved their differences. Talk about unique Peru Christmas traditions!

Bajada de Reyes: Extending the Celebrations

Why limit the festivities? In Peru, Christmas celebrations extend until January 6th, known as ‘Bajada de Reyes’ or the descent of the kings. This day marks the three wise men’s arrival in Bethlehem, and it’s celebrated with parades and dances.

Image by Jessica Knowlden via Unsplash

Peru’s Christmas Legacy

Curious about how Christmas in Peru got its distinct flair? Let’s journey back in time. When Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru, he brought with him religious traditions from Spain. Over time, these meshed with native customs, leading to the beautiful mosaic of traditions seen today. From the early religious festivals taking place in Colonial Peru to today’s urban festivities, Christmas remained a beloved national holiday.

It’s also worth noting that while Christmas in Peru has its unique characteristics, there are shared elements with other Latin American countries, a testament to the region’s interconnected cultural history.

A Taste of Christmas: Peru’s Festive Feasts

Peru’s Christmas dinner is a lavish spread. From roast turkey, which reminds many of the U.S. traditions, to the perhaps more exotic roast suckling pig or lechón, there’s something for everyone. And for dessert? Italian sweet bread, panettone, and homemade hot chocolate are the stars. Yum!

Roast Turkey and More

Central to many Peruvian Christmas dinners is the large roast turkey, seasoned with local herbs and spices. It often shares the table with a roast suckling pig or perhaps a lechón.

Sweet Sensations

For those with a sweet tooth, Peru offers Panettone (known locally as ‘Panetón’), an Italian sweet bread studded with candied fruits and raisins. This delicacy is often paired with a steamy mug of homemade hot chocolate.

Tamales and Sides

Homemade tamales, made from maize and filled with meats or cheeses, are popular side dishes. They’re complemented by a variety of salads and local accompaniments.

Drinks to Warm the Soul

Beyond the beloved hot chocolate, Peruvians often sip on ‘Chicha Morada’ – a drink made from purple corn, spiced and sweetened to perfection.

Common Queries: Unraveling the Mysteries of a Peruvian Christmas

What is Santa Claus called in Peru?

In Peru, Santa Claus goes by the moniker ‘Papa Noel’. While he’s a popular figure worldwide, in Peru, he often shares the spotlight with Baby Jesus during the Christmas celebrations.

Who brings the presents in Peru for Christmas?

Traditionally, it’s the Baby Jesus who plays the role of the gift-bringer in Peru. Families might even wait until midnight on Noche Buena to exchange gifts, marking the symbolic birth of Jesus Christ. However, ‘Papa Noel’ has been making a notable appearance in urban areas and amongst younger generations.

How is Christmas in Peru similar to the United States?

While the spirit of festivity is universal, there are some shared elements:

  • Christmas decorations: Both countries love illuminating their homes and streets, though Peruvians focus more on nativity scenes while Americans might prioritize their Christmas tree.
  • Feast: Roast turkey is a favorite on tables in both nations, though Peruvians have a broader palette of traditional foods to accompany it.
  • Spirit of Giving: Whether it’s ‘Papa Noel’ or Santa Claus, both cultures emphasize the joy of gift-giving.


While many around the world eagerly await the sound of jingle bells signaling Santa Claus, in the Andean regions of Peru, the legend says that it’s the sound of a conch shell, or ‘Pututo’, that heralds the arrival of Christmas and the accompanying celebrations.

Image by Rodion Kutsaiev via Unsplash

Wrapping It Up: Embracing the Peruvian Yuletide Spirit

Now you are ready to travel to Peru! To celebrate a vibrant Christmas, full of traditions, flavors, and a dash of the unexpected. From the solemnity of the Misa de Gallo to the playful fistfights in Chumbivilcas, the Peruvian Christmas spirit is a blend of reverence and revelry.

Remember, Christmas is more than just a day. It’s a season, an emotion, a bridge connecting cultures. So, whether you’re sipping on hot chocolate in Lima or singing carols in Los Angeles, the essence remains the same – love, unity, and joy.

But hey, if you’re curious and itching to dive deeper into the Peruvian culture, why not learn the language? At SpanishVIP, our Dedicated Teachers are ever ready to take you on a linguistic adventure. And our Student Success Advisors? They’re your compass, guiding you through your journey. Embark on your Spanish adventure with a free 1:1 class class or indulge in a full week of free group classes. Who knows, maybe next year, you’ll be spending Christmas in the heart of the Andes, fully immersed in the festivities!

So, until then, keep the festive spirit alive and… Feliz Navidad!

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