As exciting as it is to be in a different country so far away from the United States the topic of what do they do here for Christmas was quite an interesting topic.
The people here are very grounded in their Catholic beliefs. You go anywhere and you can see statues of Mary or various Saints. I know they aren’t shrines, but the way they have all the candles and flowers around so beautifully it is the only way to really describe it. Even in some of the parks they have them as well. I got to wondering who does the upkeep on all them because it is no doubt a special job. I am going to have to look up what they are called. Art here is everywhere, no matter if it is of wildlife and animals, or of huge religious murals. It is just amazing. So it really did not surprise me that the focus of the traditions here in Peru had to do with the Nativity and the Birth of Jesus.
We put up a tree and everything and decorated it, and also the Nativity scene. Madre had so many pieces of different Nativity scenes it made it a bit confusing to me. My creativity took over and I had a bit of fun with it. Later she rearranged it all correctly and explained that she had one for every area of the country. It was a total eye opener, she spent years collecting these intricately beautiful sets and they were from all over Peru. You could tell many were handmade or hand painted. Some were even over 30 years old! I had no words, it was so neat to imagine what everyone else would be doing. Obviously all I had was my imagination, but still. I noticed she took the baby Jesus from the scene as well. She explained the birth had not happened yet until midnight on Christmas Eve. I accepted that and stayed quite curious about it.
So midnight on Christmas Eve finally came, to my surprise there were fireworks everywhere. (Imagine our 4th of July, only with everyone around you setting off fireworks) The air was so thick it was hard to breathe, and it was so noisy. But the view of all these bright specks of light going off in every direction was just so beautiful. They ended up going off through the night and much of the day on Christmas.
Meanwhile, during all that commotion outside, Madre gave me the baby Jesus from the manger of the big Nativity set and told me to make a wish and place it in the scene. Of course I can’t tell you what I wished for, but all I can say is the wish was not for me.
Interestingly enough the 12 days of Christmas actually exists. It is simply the time between Jesus being born on December 25th, and the Epiphany when the three wise men came to see Him on January 6th. (I wondered why they would stay in an icky barn for that long, but it is not for me to ask questions) So all the Christmas decorations and lights everywhere stay up until the 6th of January. To me, it was really neat to see that there was more to celebrating Christmas. Honestly I thought they were just late taking everything down. But to know there was a deeper meaning meant alot.
In the United States, we usually have a big dinner as well, but the push of buying things starts on November 1st and continue to get more and more annoying until December 24th and poof, another Christmas done. Perhaps working in retail during the Christmas season has made it more annoying to me but America places way too much emphasis on materialism, especially during the holidays. It is practically to the point of brainwashing I would say. In contrast, the main focus here is time with family and making lasting memories. Of course they do presents as well, but it is not as important as people in America make it to be. I told them I didn’t expect anything, being here and living my life with them was more than enough. My fiance had paid a lot of money to get me here to Peru and I consider that to be more than enough for an early gift. Now everyday I wake up here with him beside me on the futon is a gift. I do have a great idea for something perfect for them as a late Christmas present. It was something they no doubt would need, but as of yet haven’t gotten. It costs a lot but the fact that it would make their lives much much easier and help them out is all that really matters to me. I am hoping I get those funds to do it soon, it would be the perfect surprise for them.
I think the most fun thing about the holiday season is what they call “panetone” I was eager to look up this information. It comes from Italy, and the original recipe is over 500 years old. One of the most popular stories of it’s origin tells about Ughetto degli Atellani, a nobleman who lived in 1400’s in Milan. He was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni, who worked in the kitchen of the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. To win her love, he disguised himself as a baker. To impress Adalgisa, he invented a special bread, adding new ingredients: butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied peel. Pan del Ton (Toni’s bread) was a huge success in many ways: Ughetto gets the girl, Duke approves the marriage and Toni’s invention is welcomed with an enthusiastic response. A new dessert is born, called forever Pan del Ton, or: panettone. The process of making a panettone can take several days and has been improved through the centuries. Nevertheless, the original cylindrical shape and the paper wrap around it (a smart fix to prevent the dough from overflowing) is still the same.
It is basically like fruitcake only actually it tastes really good. Personally, I love the bread part but not the little dried fruits or raisins. They actually laugh at me because I pick those out! Who knew?