Christmas in Peru: Traditions, Music, Food and Art

Christmas in Peru: Traditions, Music, Food and Art

Inside: Description of traditions and information on Christmas in Peru. 

Christmas has been around for a long time in Peru, a  now-largely Catholic nation. I have only celebrated Christmas once there, but much of it felt familiar–we had a Christmas tree, exchanging of gifts, and carols.

 

Christmas in Peru: Traditions, Music, and Food

 

Many Christmas carols in Peru–villancicos in Spanish– will be familiar to English speakers, as well. I love to sing these as a family– songs from my childhood, and my husband’s, in whichever language the situation calls for. We both grew up Presbyterian, oddly enough: Pocho, in the high jungle, the Alto Mayo, and me in North Carolina. Even though we weren’t speaking the same language, we were learning the same music, liturgy and traditions.

 

 

Here is a mix of Christmas and cumbia from the well-known Los niños cantores de huaraz if you want to hear what Christmas often sounds like in Peru!

 

 

Of course, Christmas feels different because of the weather. In the US, December ushers in winter cold and thoughts of snow. When I lived in Peru, we were in the jungle and so December was warm like all the other months. There might have been more rain, but I missed the sensory experience Christmas usually brought. On the coast, December is early summer, though high in the Andes you might find some Christmas snow.

Another big difference is that Peruvians celebrate Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) as the main event. After arriving home from Mass or a Christmas Eve service, the whole family (kids included!) sets off firecrackers or watches fireworks at midnight.

 

 

Then everyone eats a big turkey dinner together, with applesauce, potatoes, bread, and other vegetables. The most traditional part of this is panetón with hot chocolate made from chocolate bars and milk.

 

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It’s just not Noche Buena without panetón, similiar to the Italian panettone. Then presents are opened, either after dinner or the next morning. Many families will stay up until early the next morning, dancing and continuing the festivities. It’s  a little different to what I’m used to here, so I suspect our family will just try to follow all the traditions of both countries! The other night we excitedly brought out panetón and hot chocolate, for Janio’s cultural expansion, and his rewarding response was “yuck.” I can’t imagine why chocolate didn’t suit his taste buds (2-year-old are not known for being predictable) but we’ll try again next year.

In our family now, we’ve started to blend our Peruvian and American traditions. We bought a beautiful nativity set that comes out every year. I grew up with a Nativity set that we loved to carefully set out each December, and now my kids do the same.

 

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We found some beautiful ornaments in the shops in Lima to give our tree some Peruvian flair. I love that trees are often made up of ornaments representing important moments and times in our lives, and now our tree includes pieces of both continents.

 

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I made this ornament as well, by tearing up an old map of Peru, and decoupaging the pieces onto an old ornament. Looking closely, you can see the different cities we’ve lived in or visited there.

 

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If you are interested in Christmas in various Hispanic countries, you might enjoy my post Christmas in Spanish – Speaking Countries: A Collection as well.

Visit my Peru Pinterest board to learn more about Perú!

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Tropical Birds Mobile

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This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs Hispanic Heritage Blog Hop– see below for more details about that and our GIVEAWAY!

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The Alto Mayo region of Peru is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. It’s where my husband is from and where we met: the “high jungle,” the part of Peru where the jungle and the mountains meet. Greens and blues, of every shade, and brown rivers winding their way through. The deeper into the low jungle you go, the more tropical birds and animals you can find.

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Peruvian Tallarines Verdes Recipe

Peruvian Tallarines Verdes Recipe

Inside: Recipe for Peruvian Tallarines Verdes

I love Peruvian Food. It’s probably one of the things we miss the most about Peru, in fact! The dish Tallarines Verdes involves yet another delicious Peruvian blender sauce, and resembles pesto. I grew in the southern U.S., where we made sauces in a pan, starting with butter and flour. Most Peruvian recipes simply use the blender to make sauces, with a base of fresh cheese and milk.

Peruvian Tallarines Verdes

Tallarines Verdes is not only yummy, it’s also a great way to sneak an enormous helping of spinach and fresh basil onto the dinner table. My husband is not a vegetable lover so much, but he can’t get enough of this plate. Here’s what you need:

Ingredients

We like to have Tallarines Verdes with thin-sliced beef and red onions, but you could also serve it with chicken or as a vegetarian dish by itself.

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Recipe for Peruvian Tallarines Verdes

(based on recipe from Peru Delights)

Ingredients

  • 1lb. spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 small garlic clove, diced
  • 5 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk*
  • 1/2 fresh cheese (queso fresco)
  • 1/4 cup pecans (or walnuts/almonds)
  • 1/4 olive oil salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

1. Cook the spaghetti according to directions. (I avoid gluten, so I simply made rice for myself instead of pasta.) 2. Saute the beef and onions together. 3. While the spaghetti is cooking, dice the onion and garlic, and saute together in one tablespoon of oil. (The original recipe keeps the garlic raw.) 4. Drain the pasta and use the hot water to pour over the spinach and basil leaves. You don’t need to cook them, just for them to “wilt.” Pour off excess water. 5. When the onion and garlic are cooked, put in blender together with the spinach, basil, milk, cheese, nuts, salt and pepper and the rest of the olive oil. Blend thoroughly. 6. Mix the sauce with the pasta and serve with beef and red onions on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired.

*So many Peruvian recipes call for evaporated milk! It really does produce a thick, rich sauce but I prefer to stick to whole non-processed foods. I simply replaced it with my healthy fresh-from-the-farm milk, added extra cheese, and no one complained! I also forgot to picture either type of milk in the original ingredients picture.

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So good! This is Janio after dinner, eating his tallarines. He thought the blender full of green sauce was one of our green smoothies, and could not understand why he couldn’t drink that instead of his water. This resulted in a full-blown tantrum and being sent from the table. Ah, real life. Here he is, all recovered apparently!

 

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How We Met: A Bicultural Story

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Marrying a Peruvian guy from the jungle was not something I’d ever imagined. And marrying a bookish American girl was not something my husband had ever pictured, either. When we met, I didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t speak English. So, how exactly did we end up together?

 

Here’s the Story…

 

My life-long friend Rebekah and I both graduated early from college. She spoke Spanish but hadn’t studied abroad; I had majored in education but wasn’t quite ready to settle down. Through a friend I found out about a small Christian school in “the high jungle of Peru,” whatever that was. It sounded exciting. Who doesn’t want to say they’re moving to the high jungle for a while? And so we moved to Moyobamba, Peru to teach English at Annie Soper Christian School.

 

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The First Year

 

The headmaster at the time at Annie Soper, David, just happened to be a Scottish pastor and married to a local Peruvian, Martha. In exchange for volunteering at the school, they kindly offered for us to stay with them.  We arrived by plane to a nearby larger city and drove two hours through the night to Moyobamba.

davidandmartha

We had our tea– this was going to be great: does it get better than Scotland mixed with the jungle?– and tucked in for the night, the night air breezing in through the screens. Several of Martha’s siblings were housed in the room next door, one of whom was my future husband Pocho. Unbeknownst to me, that night he arrived late from work. As he passed our room, he heard someone snoring so loudly he thought to himself, “That’s weird. I thought they said two girls were coming to teach for a while.”

house

That was me snoring, and yes, that was our “cute-meet.” In my defense, I did have bad cold.

Pocho and I became friends, and washed dishes together after the mid-day meal. Somehow we chatted, with the fumbling Spanish I was starting to acquire. I liked the fun, gracious way he had about him, and thought I detected some sort of interest… maybe. He wasn’t flirtatious like many guys I’d met there, but was kind and easy to be with.

rebkah

Teaching was incredibly challenging for both Rebekah and I, but when the five months were up I wasn’t ready to leave. I finally spoke enough Spanish to somewhat control my classes and be useful to the school. I was sad to see Rebekah go, but I called to change my ticket and settled in for the rest of the school year.

As the year went on, there was interest between Pocho and I. But the obstacles were there, too: cultural differences, some spiritual difference, and… we lived in the same house, for goodness’ sake! How awkward would a break-up be? Besides, I was about to leave. I made it clear it wouldn’t work. My last week arrived, and I began my good-byes. Something checked me, though, and I suddenly had an overwhelming sense that somehow my time in Peru was not done.

I told the school I’d be back the next year. And so, thankfully, it was not adios after all.

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The Second Year

The next year was different. David and Martha moved to Scotland and we scattered to different houses. By then I had lots of wonderful friends and could get around well. I’d been dating a bit here and there, but I suspected Pocho still liked me. Casual dating seemed too risky for good friends like us and I was afraid I would hurt him; so, in my typical not-so-savvy-with-relationships fashion, I started avoiding him and causing all sorts of confusion between us.

Fast-forward halfway through that year. I was something of a mess spiritually, but Pocho’s life was taking a new turn. He was being discipled intensively and was growing by leaps and bounds, and leading the music and meetings for the young people at our church. I remember going to a meeting one Saturday night and seeing the energy he brought and how he made people feel welcome. This was interesting.

I don’t know how to describe it, except that suddenly I saw him. But I had no idea what he thought of me by then. I was pretty sure I’d ruined what I could have had, and that he’d long written me off.

Luckily for me, that very week two of our good friends got together, and out of nowhere we were inadvertently double dating, playing cards late into the night, going to eat anticuchos and grilled plantains from the Señoras with their roadside stands. It was so much fun to be with Pocho again. I knew it was up to me to say something, because I had been the one to call off anything we could have had.

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That weekend a group of friends got together to play basketball at the local pool. My basketball skills are less than desirable, but a chance to hang out with Pocho? Yes, please. About 10 minutes into the game I tripped and fell headlong into the pavement, nose first. It broke–I found out later– and though it hurt like crazy, what I remember was instinctively looking for Pocho. But he stood off to one side, uncertainly, and it was my fault he wasn’t with me like I wanted. I put a cold popsicle on my bleeding nose and mouth and sat by the pool. We got on motorcycles to go eat afterward, and I went along. Had there been a mirror I might have thought twice. Perhaps I thought my swelling face might evoke pity.

After dinner, Pocho offered rides home to me and to another friend. “If he drops me off last and we’re alone,” I thought, “I’ll see if we can talk.” He did. We went to a park, and there– bloody lips and swollen nose and all– I told him how I felt and wondered if he felt anything for me anymore.

He did. It was actually our second kiss, which though not advisable was perhaps best due to the condition of my face this time. “Ow. Um, ca you jus kiss ze bohhom yip? Ow.” The first month we dated I had two black eyes and a lovely white cast on my nose.

 

And so…

We dated for five months, and on New Year’s he asked me to marry him, knowing I was about to leave. I said yes. The official proposal was six months later in June, when I came to visit for the summer.

usdating

A ton of paperwork later, we went to the U.S. Embassy in Lima in November and were granted a fiance visa for him. I had less than a month’s notice to get our wedding together and find a place for us to live! He arrived to meet my family and the U.S. for the first time, three weeks before our snowy December wedding. 

everything lovely2

It has been quite the adventure! Though this is not something we could have planned or imagined, God has been good to us. Of course we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but who does? This year I stood at my husband’s oath ceremony to become a U.S. citizen and watched him sworn in. There are a lot of vows and signatures surrounding an international marriage. We came from opposite sides of the hemisphere, but our wedding vows were just like everyone else’s: for better or worse, till’ death do us part… and so we are now one.

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