Christmas traditions are a rich part of the tapestry of life in Latin America, and Cusco enjoys one of the more colorful festivities.
In Cusco, Christmas is traditionally celebrated on the evening of December 24th, known as la noche Buena. Gifts are exchanged, and the traditional dinner table will be filled with turkey, apple sauce and tamales. Dessert follows with panéton, the ubiquitous sweet cake of Italian origin, filled with green and red dried fruits. It is accompanied by hot chocolate made from scratch, seasoned with cinnamon and cloves.
While the western Christmas Tree has crept into the local culture, the traditional cusqueño holiday decoration is the pesebre or nativity manger. At the center of the pesebre lies el niño Manuelito, the cusqueño representation of Baby Jesus.
It is said that during the 16th century, Spanish priests who came to Peru to spread Christianity, told the story of the prophet Isaiah, who foretold the virgin birth of the child named Emmanuel. 20th century cusqueño sculptor Antonio Palomino is said to have crafted the first Niño Manuelito, giving him a sad face, tears and a thorn in his foot.
The huge square at Plaza de Armas is transformed into an enormous Christmas market, called Santurantikuy, a quechua word that roughly translates into "the selling of saints." Every year, artisans from surrounding towns and villages descend on Cusco for Santurantikuy to impress locals and tourists alike with their folk art. The market has become one of the largest craft fairs in Peru. Rows of stalls feature wood carvings, ceramics, figurines and alter pieces. Poorer communities come to sell moss, and other plants used to decorate the pesebres.
Along the fringes of the Santuranikuy, you will find stalls selling ponche, a sweet, warm and alcoholic beverage, along with hot chocolate, and the traditional anticucho (barbecued meat on a stick) of beef heart and potato.
To all our friends in Cusco and around the world, we wish you: