A deep-rooted custom in culture and Peruvian folklore, are the “nacimientos”: nativity scenes. As a Spanish student in Cusco, you will see many of those during the December month.
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 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.
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.