One of the deep-rooted custom in culture and Peruvian folklore, are the “nacimientos”: nativity scenes.
The assembly of the nativity is a tradition that, at the beginning of the colonial stage, used to be an instrument for evangelization brought from Spain by the Congregation of the Jesuits. Throughout the years, each region in Peru started to develop it’s own ”nacimientos” based on typical elements of each region. A nativity in Cusco, for example, is very different from the typical ones from Lima or Ayacucho, where the nativities are called ‘retablos’. Each province has it’s own way to show their Christmas fervor. In the northern provinces of Peru the nativities are made our of mud; other provinces mix Inca and Spanish culture and incorporate elements from different periods. Also the “Ashaninkas” – the indigenous people of the jungle – have their own Christmas nativity scenes and rituals: the cribs are visited by little shepherds who sing Christmas carols to the Child.
In the Central Peruvian highlands, Junin is famous for its “mates burilados”: beautiful gourds decorated with varies patterns related to Christmas.
In Cusco, nativities are assembled by Peruvian families in their homes and preferably all family members assist. Our students living with Peruvian host families during their Spanish courses will be able to assist to this unique event. But not only the families have their own nativities; also public and private institutions and churches make nativity scenes. The celebration is accompanied by different activities such as presentations of choral ensembles, arrangements and decoration of balconies. In Cusco, there is even a yearly Contest of Andean Nativities, organized by the municipal company of celebrations of Cusco (EMEUFEC). At the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, short walk from the AMAUTA Spanish School, a big nativity scene can be seen.
The mounting of nativities is a moment full of excitement but at the same time imbued with a religious fervor. In the nativities in Cusco, the landscape depicted is the Peruvian Andes (instead of Judea) and people in Cusco use native flora of the region: natural herbs, straw, “salvajina” (Spanish moss), “ichu” (bunch grass-Jarava ichu), “molles” (peppers trees), “champa” (sod- grass with dirt), flowers and orchids among others. The hills and the mountains are made of a typical green paper, mixed with a glue made based on flour, called “engrudo” (paste), to finally paint it with colors that resemble the Andean mountains.
Other typical components of a typical Peruvian nativity are, of course, the star of Bethlehem, the wise men from the East and the animals of the manger. All those images have local – Cusquenian – attributes like a brown skin and dark black hair . All people represented are usually dressed in the traditional costumes of the Cusco region: Maria has even braids, a blanket (in Quechua is called “liclla“) and an Andean skirt! And Joseph is wearing a “chullo” (a kind of woolen hat used by people in the Andeans). Also Jesus (also called “El niño Manuelito”) is dressed in typical clothes of the Cusco region, full of colors and sequins.
Before Midnight the nativity must be completed, giving way to expressions of joy for Christmas: people start burning incense and firecrackers, lit of the sparklers, to finally merge in an embrace of peace and love accompanied by a hot chocolate and a typical sweet cake called Panetón (from the Italian Panettone) and Christmas carols.