The blending of our American and Peruvian Christmas traditions was exhilarating and exhausting, as Christmas Eve spilled into Christmas Day, uninterrupted.
Our December Newsletter shares some diverse Christmas traditions but really these are just an extension of the everyday life style. The desire to gather and share food, stories and laughter is a daily one that isn’t saved for the weekend or twice a year holiday parties.
Peruvian Christmas Eve Traditions
Our family celebrates the Christmas fully, both faithfully and in Santa revelry. The Latin Catholics have a very diverse style of celebrating depending on the country. I love the Hispanic emphasis of Christmas Eve, La Noche Buena, and the true moment of celebration. Our family created traditions that blended both the Peruvian and American takes on Christmas.
I carried thee on in my own family until my daughters reached an ornery age of “being too tired”. Funny, how clubbing in Greece was easy but staying up for Midnight Mass was impossible. There’s wine but maybe it was the DJ.
Midnight Mass was the main purpose of Christmas in our family with a blend of our cultures. The lead up on Christmas Eve was the American traditions of singing carols and hanging stockings. My father had the most beautiful baritone voice for reading, one he used to quickly put us to sleep when reading us bedtime stories. My favorite memory was him singing, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, which gave him the perfect stage to hit his deep notes. I wonder how many fathers sing to their children in a way that they will remember long after their gone. Not just the goofy songs, but ones that will get sung down through the generations.
The Peruvian traditions took over once 11:30pm hit. Midnight Mass was a must as this is the most important moment of Christmas. All the American traditions led up to us leaving for Mass hopefully in time to get a seat so as not to stand for 2 hours. Returning home near 2 am is when the festivities really started. This was the time of revelry, Peruvian style. We would be finishing up near 5 am and then the American tradition of running down for presents and stocking would take over.
The blending of cultures made for a non-stop 24 hour party. In Peru, Christmas Day is spent sleeping in and business as usual. Presents and parties are saved for the Epiphany on January 6th. So combining Peruvian Christmas Eve with American Christmas Day was a test of endurance and eating capacity.
Peruvian Christmas Eve Party
The party after Midnight Mass was what we held out for. We would come home to a table overflowing with eggnog and champagne before diving into the buffet of goodies: picarones, empanadas, cured meats, roasted pork, scalloped potatoes and tons of goodies like Flan, Arroz Con Leche and Alfajores. Panetone was saved for Brunch the next, or really, it was the same day just more towards Noon.
The dishes were a blend of my mother’s Peruvian favorites and my dad’s traditional loves. The fact that Peru is the epicenter of potatoes was a big plus for my father falling in love with the country and it’s beautiful Consuelo. He was definitely a meat and potatoes guy from Wyoming. It’s funny that this was the perfect mix for the meat and potatoes lifestyle of Peru. When worlds collide…
The beauty of the table was always attributed to my mother’s vision. The setting was stunning, bolstering the food to be even more delicious and exciting. She loved color in everything, something I attribute to her Hispanic DNA. Everything in their house was color, from the beautiful ceramic tiles to the wall coverings and furniture. Her design touch kept you embraced in warmth and love and so did her literal touch through hugs.
My dad would put on his record albums, everything from traditional Christmas carols by old time crooners to Peruvian ballads. He would lead my mother on to the foyer “dance floor” and step into a waltz that took them to a place only they would know. We would gather around their life source, celebrating the love in gratitude for time together.
If we didn’t celebrate the American version of Christmas morning, the party would have gone on all night. But, with little ones expecting presents from Santa, the adults needed to get the kids to bed in order to put together the toys. I would be placing the last tiny decal of some toy when the calls from upstairs came, “Can we get up now?”. Bleary eyed and bubbly infused, we would excitedly say, “Yes!”, and the pounding of little feet announced Christmas morning.
Peruvian Christmas Eve Recipes
For some reason, my mother never made tamals. Probably because she was exhausted from running the corporation and the family without any help. She probably would have loved to put time into tamals rather than balancing projections and budgets. Still, her ocopa and empanadas were always in the mix.
Her recipes for these are so different from typical Peruvian versions. It’s the difference of the North versus South in cooking style, just like the U.S. She is from Arequipa, in the South, where the dishes have complex flavors for boisterous gatherings. Lima, in the North, tends to have less ingredients and more simplicity.
Of all the choices, the empanadas and Arroz Con Leche were mainstays in our daily meals. Whenever anyone had a craving for them, one of us would manage to whip them up for the group. I haven’t had equal versions of them out in the world. The ingredients are so specific and quirky that these dishes come out better than those in the restaurants.
Fortunately for our subscribers, we have included the Peruvian Tamal recipe on our December newsletter. The recipe is perfect to make with a group of friends. Everyone completes a step to make the full production as a group. Once it’s time to assemble the tamale, it will feel like a Christmas wrapping party. Lots of laughing and storytelling to be had!
Although both dishes may seem labor intensive, it’s the labor of cooking that brought our family together. My parents, daughters and I all taking turns in prepping, stirring and plating the dishes. Time goes so fast when you’re laughing together in the kitchen and stealing “tastes” of all the goodies.