Christmas celebrations everywhere have at least one common thread: a time for family and friends to gather together. But, the traditions we each have for celebrating can vary greatly (even from town to town). While shops in our cozy town of Bozeman are closing early, our friends down in Cusco are taking to the Plaza de Armas (the main square) to visit the Santuarnicuy “saints for sale” market. Hundreds of artisans and rural villagers flock to downtown Cusco to sell their handmade goods.
The Santuaranticuy market is one of the largest arts and craft fairs in Peru. The plaza is taken over for days, with some vendors even camping out overnight. The market brings out Cusqueno families looking to buy saints, nativity figurines and other decorative elements in order to go home and build their own manger scenes of Baby Jesus’ birth or Niño Manuelito. Most of the Cusqueno’s we work with take their families to the market on Christmas Eve, sharing what they can with the rural vendors (a hot chocolate, food and some even take toys to the children).
At midnight, the streets are aglow as hundreds of fireworks explode overhead, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Most families head back with their loved ones to pray at the alter they have created and put the new Niño Manuelito in his place in the manger, hugging and celebrating Christmas!
On Christmas Day most families stroll through the various churches to admire their Nativities. The churches in Cusco compete for the best representation of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem with extravagant figures and ornaments – some dating as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries!
Then it’s back home for food. . . Some families cooking up big turkeys or chickens and others sticking to the more traditional Peruvian celebration food of cuye (guinea pig), corn tortillas, meat juice with rice, noodles and beans.
As a traveler, we recommend that you spend Christmas Eve and most of Christmas day in Cusco where more festivities are happening. Later on Christmas Day, you may want to catch the afternoon train up to Machu Picchu Pueblo and see the site on the 26th. This way, you get to see the best of the celebrations in Cusco and hopefully catch Machu Picchu when it’s a tad less crowded.
In Peru, the Christmas holiday is all about the birth of Jesus Christ. And when it comes to celebrating, whether it’s traditional or totally unique holidays, Cusquenos seem to do it up right!
Want to celebrate Christmas in Peru next year? Check out Detour’s awesome Cusco and Machu Picchu tours; we can help plan your dream holiday vacation.