From the age-old traditions of Romania, we make our way to South America, where Christmas in Lima, Peru awaits us. Being predominantly Catholic, Peru holds the Christmas celebration dear, although many now see it as simply a festive family holiday rather than a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Those who do celebrate the Nativity generally have a manger scene on display, and the gifts are placed around it. Most mangers are carefully crafted out of wood, pottery, or huamanga stone. Although every Peruvian knows who Santa Claus is, he is widely regarded as nothing more than a Western import; in fact, at one time he was banned by the government as a symbol of Western capitalism and greed.
Most of the actual celebrating in Peru happens not on Christmas Day but on Christmas Eve, called Nochebuena. Families gather for the big feast, which generally features a roast turkey, along with tamales, salads (remember, it's summer!), and desserts. Some practicing Christian families, like our friends Francis and Carmen, recount the story of the first Christmas to their children and remind them of its central place in the celebration. At midnight, like New Year's in many countries, everyone hugs and kisses to the sights and sounds of fireworks. It's not uncommon that only after midnight the presents are opened. (Most children I know would never be able to wait that long!) Once the thrill of the presents has finally given way to fatigue, the children head to bed (sometimes as late as 2:00 or 3:00 am!), while the adults continue celebrating into the night.
Needless to say, most Peruvians sleep in on Christmas morning, finally waking up to hot chocolate with cinnamon and cloves and panetón, a tradition sweet bread of Italian origin (panettone).
Merry Christmas to all and ¡Feliz Navidad!