Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas In Lima

By Naomi Mapstone
Timing is everything in a Peruvian Christmas. Christmas eve is Nochebuena, the good night, and celebrations are geared to the stroke of midnight, when Peruvians light up the skies with fireworks displays.
In Lima, the sprawling desert capital overlooking the Pacific coast, offices shut at midday, giving the city’s 8m inhabitants time to make a last raid on shops and markets or to catch a bus for the provinces, high up in the Andes.
The city’s habitual creeping fog has evaporated by Christmas eve, lifting the spirits of last-minute shoppers but leaving mall Santas red-faced and flustered in their scratchy red wool suits.
The Santas are a relatively new addition to Christmas in Peru, along with Christmas trees and fairy lights, add-ons to the centuries-old tradition of nativity scenes depicting baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the odd llama under the star of Bethlehem.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the Christmas menu in this nation of food lovers, where ceviche and pisco sour recipes are as popular talking points as football. The main family feast takes place on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day, and sees some unusual specialities brought to the table. Peruvian cuisine is a heady mix of pre-Colombian, Spanish, Arabic, African, Chinese and Japanese traditions. At Christmas, Peruvians throw Italian and north American influences into the mix.
Sales of panetónes, the Italian sweet bread, easily outstrip huahuas (pronounced “wawas”), baby Jesus-shaped breads and biscuits traditional in the sierra.
While roast baby pig and roast guinea pig stuffed with herbs might hold sway in the towns of the Andes, when it comes to the evening feast in Lima, turkey rules the roost. Shot through with pisco, a white brandy, basted with red Peruvian chilli, and stuffed with apple, it is often served with mashed sweet potato, salads and an Arabic-style rice cooked in Coca-Cola.
Some families serve dinner at 10pm and toast the arrival of Christ at midnight with champagne, hot chocolate and panetón; others pick at tamales, ground corn stuffed with chicken or cheese, and wait for the fireworks to start a night-long party. Either way, many Peruvians start Christmas day with a long lie-in.