Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Peru: Nativity Scenes

No “Jingle Bells”, no chocolate Santa Clauses, no heavy advertising, and no shopping craze.

Instead: Nativity Scenes, panettone, and joyful, yet peaceful, family celebrations. Compared to most (if not all) Western countries, Christmas in Peru much more closely resembles what Christmas was meant to and should be: spending quality time with your family, and–for Catholics–religious reflection.

The importance of the latter in Peruvian Christmas tradition manifests through the ubiquitous presence of Nativity Scenes. They were everywhere: in the shops and restaurants, in travel agencies, at the bus stations, in churches and cathedrals, at city squares, and in most households.

Traditional Peruvian Nativity Sets are handmade and often have a local “flavor.” Not only are they made with local resources (e.g., wood, clay, etc.), but also they incorporate local scenes, costumes, and animals. It also seems that Peruvians think that the more, the better; and try to squeeze in as many characters in their nativity scenes as possible. You’ll find there not only the typical figures representing the infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Magi, shepherds, angels, an ox, an ass, and a sheep, but also such exotic animals like an elephant, a llama, a kangaroo, a giraffe, a flamingo, or even a cartoon character Snoopy dog!

In fact, some of the Nativity Scenes that we saw had hundreds of figurines, and–to my European eye–looked quite kitschy. But at the same time I felt very appreciative of Peruvian inclusiveness and open-mindedness. In the end, this is what Christmas should be about: all of us being one big caring and loving family. Do not forget that during this coming Christmas!