One of the things I love about Christmas are the nativity scenes, I’m a sucker for a smiling naciemento, Mr E has to stop me buying numerous tiny sets to take home.
In most Latin America homes, businesses and town plazas all have a nativity. Baby Jesus will be taken to mass on Christmas Eve to be blessed and only then will he be placed in the manger.
In Cusco the main nativity is a themed one from colonial Spanish times where Inca culture is merged with the Catholic figures of Mary & Joseph. The long necks represent the Alpaca and Llamas of the region.
Inca mythology believes Pachamama is the mother Earth, cute Christmas decorations depict the Virgin Mary and Pachamama together. They have the face of Mary and the triangle body shape for the goddess mother earth.
On Wednesday a massive Santuranticuy Christmas Market was set up in the main Plaza de Armas selling artesian gifts such as alpaca sweaters, hats, gloves and scarfs.
There are loads of stalls selling fancy lace clothing for the Nino Manuelito who represents the baby Jesus doll and cribs to place him in. Emmanuel was the name given to Jesus by the Christian missionaries, in Spanish adding the ‘ito’ softens the name as a term of affection or for someone small. The Peruvian artist who created the first doll sculpture was moved to hear a story about a local shepherd boy who cried when he got a thorn stuck in his foot, so the artist then created Nino Manuelito depicted also crying with a thorn in his foot.
Families come to buy wooden frames for the nativity and there is plenty of greenery and moss to decorate the nativity scenes. Other stalls sell every animal you might need plus the Wise Men and other nativity figures.
Alongside all this commercialism of both tourists and Peruvians buying Christmas gifts there are many poor families who travel into Cusco for some Christmas cheer.
Children with grubby faces and tattered clothes run excitedly to line up for free gifts from charitable churches. The boys receive cars and trucks, the chicas receive a cheaper version of a Barbie doll.
On December 22nd the tradition of Chocolatada is shared out in the hope of bring some Christmas joy to the poor families. They are given a cup of steaming hot chocolate to drink and a slice of Paneton to eat. Supermarkets are stocked with piles of boxes of the popular Italian Panettone sweet bread in the run up to Christmas.
It’s a humbling experience to watch, as these families are about as poor as it gets but there are always smiles.
Cusco is a beautiful old colonial Spanish city with narrow cobbled streets and Inca built foundations and walls, where the huge blocks of stone fit perfectly together like a jigsaw puzzle so not even a knife can fit between them. Thousands of tourists visit as a base for the Sacred Valley trips to Machu Picchu. Because of the huge influx of tourists you have to run the gauntlet of people wanting to sell you paintings, hats, toys, gifts and body massages, for those with aches and pains from completing the Inca Trail!
There are wonderfully dressed folkloric ladies who ask for tips for photos with their llama or sweet little lambs they carry in their brightly coloured weaved blankets. It’s totally touristy but I just can’t resist taking photos and snuggling with the animals.
This is our second Christmas away from home, I have to admit I was feeling incredibly sentimental, a bit teary and a touch homesick for friends and family.
I’m thankful everyday for this amazing 18 months trip we’re having and seeing those kids in the square who really have nothing reminds me how fortunate we are, plus I have my Mr E who tells me often to get a grip!!
A spin around the Christmas market to purchase some tiny gifts for each other, made me feel far more festive and then of course your lovely social media messages are just wonderful.
But I’m still yearning for a mince pie, someone please put one in the freezer for me to eat when I return next May!!