Customs

How Christmas is Celebrated in Cuzco

A Christmas Tree on the Plazoleta Espinar

After a Christmas Eve filled with villancicos (Christmas carols), hot chocolate, and panetón, finally midnight came, the Christ Child was born and brought with him Christmas, a day of peace and love for all. Christmas is a day to celebrate in family, showing our love for each other.

During Christmas, Cuzco fills with visitors from many different parts of the world. They chose to be in this magical city for their Christmas.

On the 24th of December, Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas, its main square, fills with the Santurantikuy market. This market is named for the sale of ceramic figures of the Christ Child called the Niño Manuel. Every year this traditional fair is celebrated and, following custom, thousands of buyers and spectators gather to enjoy everything that it offers.

The night of the 24th, most people spend in their family homes enjoying a Christmas dinner with traditional dishes such as chicken soup and maybe a Christmas turkey. The adults offer toasts with champagne and wine while the children wait with nervous energy for it to be midnight so they can let off firecrackers. Everyone also drinks hot chocolate while eating a big piece of golden sweet bread with fruit called panetón.

A Young Child in Cuzco's Main Square
A Young Child in Cuzco’s Main Square

When midnight finally rolls around, some children will have fallen asleep but the noise of fireworks awakes them.

At midnight people say the Christ Child is born and Christmas has now officially come. Everyone gives everyone else a big hug to wish them a merry Christmas. Faimilys that have put up a manger scene will now place the Christ Child, the Niño Manuel, in his manger. They begin celebrating his birth with songs and villancicos.

Just before midnight they will also have prepared fireworks and then begun their downward count ten, nine, eight, and so on until midnight. At that moment they light their fireworks, each competing with others, and the city of Cuzco erupts in light.

In the Plaza de Armas there is a different ambiance. Many of the visitors from all different lands gather there. They gather in groups and many sing their Christmas songs. They also light whistling rockets, fire crackers, and other fireworks, making for an unusual international experience.

A Young Family Together in Cuzco
A Young Family Together in Cuzco

Christmas is for children. On the morning of the 25th, very early, to children begin to wake up. Happy with their presents they begin to play and once those that still sleep wake up, they too run for their gifts. The tradition is to have another big slice of panetón with hot chocolate Christmas morning.

Christmas is happiness. In the morning some take time to go and visit their friends and other family members to give them a Christmas greeting. Others call their family members who are far away. It is a day of harmony in which you feel the Christmas love.

December 25th is a tranquil day. The great majority of people stay in their homes. In fact the most important thing is to be with family that day. The streets fo Cuzco are calm. It is a holiday for all.

Children in Cuzco
Children in Cuzco

During the day, though, groups come together to offer chocolatadas for the children in the neighborhoods of the city. Children line up to get a steaming cup and often a gift. Those children who may not have received other gifts at Christmas time get them here at these chocolatadas. They then spend the day playing with their new toys.

Christmas is a day to celebrate in the family, a day for children, and a day of peace for all. Merry Christmas.

A Little Boy Playing with His Toys
A Little Boy Playing with His Toys
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1 Comment

  1. This was especially heart-warming! I loved the bit about the kids waking up to do the fireworks and when they wake up on Christmas just to spend it with their families.
    That panetón- I’ve had that before… It’s a bit like fruitcake, but way more pleasing to the taste buds!

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