Christmas in Lima, Peru

Exploring Christmas in Peru: A Festive Peruvian Vocabulary Guide

Leonor Garcia Published on December 1, 2023

The holiday season in Peru is a time of joy, traditions, and heartwarming gatherings. In this article, we will teach you about Christmas traditions in Peru through a unique holiday vocabulary list. From delightful traditional Peruvian food to cherished customs, we’ll explore the language that is typically used during the festivity.

Our vocabulary can paint a vivid picture of a country’s unique holiday customs and the warmth of its people. Let’s learn how these 10 words encapsulate the heart and soul of Christmas in Peru. Embrace the festive spirit, and may your Peruvian Christmas be filled with joy and love.

Christmas in Lima, Peru

1. Chocolatada: Spreading Warmth and Cheer

In the days leading up to Nochebuena, Peruvians come together for chocolatadas. This word has two meanings: one is a traditional Christmas drink (hot chocolate) and the second is a gathering celebrated near Christmas time. Chocolatadas are held to share hot chocolate, panetón (Italian sweet bread and fruitcake adapted to Peruvian taste), and gifts with the less fortunate.

We usually go to the streets where they live, and give them hot chocolate, different treats, and of course, presents! That’s actually what kids are more excited about. This heartwarming tradition exemplifies the spirit of giving during the holiday season. And, who’s always present at chocolatadas? Yes! Papá Noel! (Santa Claus).

2. Canasta Navideña: A Gift of Abundance

The canasta navideña is a Christmas basket filled with essential items like milk, sugar, chocolate bars, champagne, and more. Companies often present these baskets to their employees as a token of appreciation during the holiday season. 

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3. La Grati: A Bonus of Holiday Joy

La grati is a word derived from gratificación (bonus). This is an extra salary that Peruvians receive on December 15th. It’s a bonus given by the companies to their employees twice a year, in July for the National Holidays and in December for Christmas. La grati adds a new dimension to the Peruvian Christmas experience by helping to relieve the financial pressure of the holiday season.

4. Paneton: The Sweet Heart of Christmas

Similar to the Italian panettones, paneton (also spelled panetón) is a beloved Peruvian holiday treat. It’s a sweet, fruit-filled bread. It has frutas confitadas (candied fruits) that can include watermelon and pear flavors. These are made out of the fruit’s peel, and taste amazing! Besides these candied fruits, paneton also has raisins inside. Many people don’t like them and they just take them out to keep eating! This is one of the many traditional foods that grace many Christmas tables in Peru and symbolizes the sweet moments we share with loved ones. There’s no Christmas in Peru without paneton!

Panettone bread

5. Luces de Navidad: Enchanting Christmas Lights

Luces de Navidad or Christmas lights illuminate streets and homes throughout the country. These vibrant displays create a festive atmosphere and add to the holiday magic. There are even some neighborhoods that are famous for their beautiful Christmas decorations with luces de Navidad so that families get together, and go visit them to take pictures.

6. Misa de Gallo: Welcoming the Savior

Before the clock strikes midnight, many Peruvians attend the Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass), a special Christmas Eve Mass, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s a cherished tradition that brings families and communities together. In South American countries, people tend to focus more on the midnight celebration to welcome the Savior, so December 24th sometimes feels more like Christmas than December 25th. When we celebrate the Misa de Gallo, we feel like we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus since the very beginning of the day.     

7. Villancicos: The Soundtrack of Christmas

Villancicos is the Spanish word for Christmas carols. From the beginning of the holiday season, Christmas music fills the air with melodies of joy and celebration. Whether sung in homes or public spaces, these songs are an integral part of the holiday spirit. There’s even a very famous Peruvian band that only sings villancicos, called “Los Toribianitos”. For us, Los Toribianitos are a Christmas must!

8. Vale de Pavo: The Turkey Voucher

To make Christmas dinner more accessible, companies often provide a Vale de Pavo (turkey voucher) to their employees. We consider this something big because turkey is one of the main traditional dishes of our Christmas Eve dinner. This thoughtful gesture ensures that everyone can enjoy a delicious turkey feast on Nochebuena considering that, during those days, Turkey becomes really expensive!

9. Nochebuena: The Big Celebration

Nochebuena (or Noche Buena) is the most significant day of the Peruvian Christmas celebration. On December 24th, families come together for a grand Christmas dinner. While Turkey is usually the main dish, we also include many side dishes like mashed potatoes, lechón (roasted pig), and different types of rice (we love rice!). After dinner, we exchange gifts and celebrate the midnight arrival of Christmas Day. December 25th is typically a day of rest and reflection. We typically eat the Christmas Eve dinner’s leftovers while watching Christmas movies on December 25th.

10. El Arbolito: Decorating the Tree

El arbolito (the little tree) is how we affectionately refer to the Christmas tree. Decorating the tree with our family is a cherished tradition, and we often do it while listening to the joyful sounds of villancicos and having some Peruvian hot chocolate after we’re done with the decorations. There’s no set day to decorate the tree, but many families like to do it on or before December 8th (the day of the Feast of Immaculate Conception).

Ways to Practice Spanish Before Visiting Peru for Christmas

Are you getting ready for a special Christmas trip to Peru? Learning some Spanish is a good idea if you want to connect with locals and make your holiday even more enjoyable. Start with language learning apps that you can use on your phone. They’re fun and help you get the basics.

You can also find books made for travelers that teach useful phrases and share interesting facts about the culture. If you prefer online learning, you can register for Spanish courses where you can chat with teachers and classmates. Joining language exchange programs lets you practice with a native speaker, and watching Spanish movies and shows, especially with subtitles, can help improve your listening skills. Whether you’re traveling to Lima or Cusco, learning Spanish will help you connect with people and understand the local culture better during your Christmas adventure in Peru.  

Final Thoughts

Preparing for your Christmas adventure in Peru by learning Spanish is a wonderful way to connect with the local culture and make the most of your trip. Learning the language not only helps you communicate but also opens doors to understanding the traditions, customs, and warm-hearted spirit of Christmas Day in Peru. As you embark on this exciting Christmas journey, remember that every word and phrase you learn will improve your connection with the people and the magic of Christmas in Peru. Feliz Navidad and safe travels!

Leonor Garcia

Leonor García is a Peruvian ESL teacher with a bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. She is fluent in Spanish and English and is currently learning Portuguese. She is passionate about cultural exchange and using languages to drive globalization. Through her writing and teaching, Leonor aims to help people achieve their language learning goals. Connect with Leonor on LinkedIn.

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