By Tony Dunnell
If you’re heading to Peru in December, you’ll probably be thinking about Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are certainly the focal points of the month -- and Peru is a great place to celebrate the festive period -- but they aren’t the only events in December. You’ll also find festivities celebrating distinctly non-Christmassy events, including famous battles, pirate-defying religious statues and spectacular Andean scissor dancing...
December 2 to 9, Ayacucho, Huamanga Province
On December 9, 1824, a patriot victory over Spanish forces at the Battle of Ayacucho gained Peru its independence. The decisive victory also led to independence from Spain for much of South America, effectively liberating the continent. Today, weeklong celebrations in Ayacucho, primarily within the district of Quinua, pay homage to this momentous occasion. The festivities, which include sporting events, cultural activities and craft shows, attract participants from across South America.
December 8, National Holiday
December 8 is a national holiday in Peru, set aside in celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (Inmaculada Concepción or Dia de la Purísima Concepción). Mary, daughter of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, was supposedly born free from original sin. The day celebrates this birth and should not be confused with the virgin birth of Christ. The celebrations differ from region to region, but typically involve colorful street processions.
December 12 to 15, Otuzco, La Libertad
The image of the Virgen de la Puerta (Virgin of the Gate) is highly venerated in the city and province of Otuzco, located about two hours from Trujillo on the north coast of Peru. The statue of the virgin is associated with a number of miracles, the first of which involved the arrival of pirates in 1674. Defenseless, the people of Otuzco put their faith in the image. When the pirates failed to descend upon the town, the townspeople gave thanks to the statue of the virgin. The Virgen de la Puerta has since become an important religious image throughout Northern Peru, and its annual procession attracts a large crowd of devotees.
December 24, Cusco
Santuranticuy, literally the “selling of saints,” is a traditional market held in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas on Christmas Eve. Artisans from across the region gather in the main square to sell handcrafted images of the nativity and related religious representations. You’ll also find plenty of traditional Peruvian snacks on sale, catering to the bustling crowds of festive shoppers.
December 24 and 25, National Holidays
Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) and Christmas Day (Navidad) are both subject to a few regional differences. A traditional family Christmas on the coast, for example, may differ from a typical Andean celebration. In general, however, Christmas Eve is the livelier day, with fireworks, colorful festivities and midnight gift-opening sessions. December 25 tends to be sleepy, with quiet streets and a distinct atmosphere of recovery (among the adults, at least). Traditional Christmas foods include panetón, hot chocolate and, for the main Christmas meal, roast turkey or lechón (roast suckling pig).
December 24 to 27, Huancavelica
Each year, from December 24 to 27, the highland city of Huancavelica hosts a festival of the danza de tijeras (the scissor dance, also known as galas or laijas). This traditional Andean dance combines great skill and athleticism with a deeply rooted ritual aspect. The Huancavelica festival brings together some of Peru’s finest scissor dancers.
December 26, Department of Madre de Dios
The department of Madre de Dios was founded on December 26, 1912. The department, which consists of high and lowland jungle, is bordered by the Peruvian departments of Puno, Cusco and Ucayali, with Brazil and Bolivia to the east. Anniversary celebrations include singing, dancing and street parades. The festivities take place throughout the region, with the largest events held in the departmental capital of Puerto Maldonado.