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Celebrating Christmas In Cusco


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Asia Bartlett



Welcome to the beautiful city of Cusco, nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. As the historic capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is a city rich in culture, art, and traditions. One of the most captivating times to visit Cusco is during the Christmas season, when the city comes alive with festive decorations, lively celebrations, and age-old traditions.


Christmas in Cusco is a magical time, where centuries-old customs blend with modern festivities. The city is adorned with vibrant decorations, the sweet scent of traditional Peruvian delicacies fills the air, and the sound of joyful music echoes through the cobblestone streets. Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor, there’s something enchanting about experiencing Christmas in Cusco.


Steeped in history and influenced by both Spanish colonialism and indigenous traditions, the Christmas celebrations in Cusco provide a unique glimpse into the cultural diversity of the region. From religious processions to indigenous rituals, from elaborate nativity scenes to traditional Andean music, the holiday season in Cusco is a time of unity, joy, and reflection.


Throughout this article, we’ll explore the rich history of Christmas in Cusco, the traditional decorations that adorn the city, the religious ceremonies and rituals that take place, the mouthwatering foods and drinks you can savor, the vibrant Christmas markets and shopping opportunities, and the exciting events and festivals that bring the city to life during this special time of year.


Additionally, we’ll delve into how Christmas is celebrated in indigenous communities within and around Cusco, as well as the unique traditions observed in the Andean mountains. So whether you’re looking to learn more about the cultural significance of Christmas in Cusco or planning a visit during the holiday season, join us on this journey as we explore the magic and wonder of Christmas in this captivating Andean city.


History of Christmas in Cusco

The history of Christmas in Cusco is intertwined with the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Inca Empire had its own religious and ceremonial traditions. However, with the arrival of Catholicism, Christmas took on new significance in the region.


Under the influence of Spanish missionaries, the indigenous population of Cusco began to embrace Christianity, blending their own customs with the new religious practices. This fusion of cultures gave rise to unique Christmas traditions in Cusco that carry on to this day.


The centerpiece of Cusco’s Christmas celebrations is the nativity scene, known as the “nacimiento.” Elaborate nativity scenes, often crafted by local artisans, grace homes, churches, and public spaces. These nativity scenes depict not only the birth of Jesus but also elements of Andean culture, such as llamas and traditional clothing worn by the figures.


Another important aspect of Christmas in Cusco is the celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas season and is honored with processions, music, and traditional dances. The Plaza de Armas, the main square of Cusco, becomes a hub of activity, with locals and tourists coming together to witness the festive spirit.


Throughout the colonial period, the Catholic Church played a crucial role in shaping the Christmas traditions in Cusco. Churches like the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Church of Santo Domingo became focal points for religious ceremonies and festivities. These historic churches still stand today, serving as testaments to the enduring legacy of Christmas in Cusco.


While the influence of Spanish colonization is evident in the Christmas traditions of Cusco, it’s important to note that indigenous customs and rituals have also been preserved. Many communities in and around Cusco incorporate traditional Andean elements into their Christmas celebrations, such as music, dances, and offerings to the Pachamama (Mother Earth).


As the centuries passed, Christmas in Cusco evolved, incorporating new customs and traditions. Today, Christmas is a time when families come together, both in Cusco and from far-flung places, to celebrate the joyous holiday season and honor the rich cultural heritage of this extraordinary city.


Traditional Christmas Decorations in Cusco

When it comes to Christmas decorations, Cusco is a city that embraces both traditional and contemporary elements. Walking through its streets during the holiday season, you’ll witness a symphony of colors, lights, and intricate decorative displays.


One of the most prominent traditional Christmas decorations in Cusco is the “arco de bienvenida” or welcome arch. These beautifully adorned arches are placed at the entrances of homes, shops, and streets as a way to welcome the holiday season and invite good fortune. Made from locally sourced materials, these arches are adorned with colorful ribbons, flowers, and Andean symbols, creating a vibrant and festive atmosphere.


Another iconic decoration in Cusco is the Christmas tree. While Fir trees are not native to the region, artificial trees have become popular in recent years. However, the use of traditional materials such as eucalyptus branches or woven baskets filled with fruits and ornaments is still common. These unique trees are often decorated with handmade ornaments, including miniature clay figurines representing regional cultural elements.


Nativity scenes, or “nacimientos,” are an integral part of Christmas decorations in Cusco. These elaborate displays feature not only the traditional characters of the nativity, but also elements of Andean culture, such as llamas, alpacas, and local flora. The nativity scenes are meticulously crafted by skilled artisans and are placed in homes, churches, and public spaces, creating a captivating visual representation of the Christmas story combined with regional traditions.


Throughout the city, strings of colorful lights adorn buildings, trees, and plazas. The warm glow of these lights adds a festive ambiance to the streets, creating a magical atmosphere during the Christmas season. In recent years, LED lights have become popular due to their energy efficiency and wide range of vibrant colors.


Cusco’s traditional Christmas decorations also include handmade crafts and textiles. Local artisans craft intricate ornaments, nativity scene figurines, and other decorative items using traditional weaving techniques and vibrant Peruvian textiles. These unique crafts showcase the rich artistic heritage of the region and make for distinctive and meaningful Christmas decorations.


As you stroll through the Christmas markets and shops of Cusco, you’ll find an abundance of handmade decorations, from ornaments crafted from local materials to intricate tapestries depicting scenes of the nativity. These traditional decorations not only add beauty to the festive surroundings but also provide economic opportunities for local artisans.


Whether you’re enchanted by the simplicity of the welcome arches, the intricate details of the nativity scenes, or the vibrant colors of the handmade crafts, the traditional Christmas decorations in Cusco create a captivating and visually stunning environment, immersing visitors in the rich cultural heritage of the region.


Religious Celebrations and Rituals

Christmas in Cusco is a time of devout religious observance and deep spiritual significance. Throughout the holiday season, various religious celebrations and rituals take place, honoring the birth of Jesus and reaffirming the faith of the local community.


One of the most anticipated religious celebrations in Cusco is the midnight Mass, known as “Misa de Gallo” or “Rooster’s Mass.” This tradition dates back to the colonial era when the indigenous population, who often worked as farmers, would attend Mass before dawn to offer gratitude for the harvest season. Today, the Misa de Gallo takes place on Christmas Eve, and locals gather in the churches, including the iconic Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Church of Santo Domingo, to participate in this significant religious ceremony.


Processions are also a significant part of the religious celebrations in Cusco. On Christmas Eve, the Plaza de Armas becomes a vibrant stage for a grand procession, where statues of Saints and religious icons are paraded through the streets. The procession is accompanied by traditional music, dancing, and the enthusiastic participation of the local community. This festive display of faith and devotion creates a powerful and awe-inspiring atmosphere in the heart of the city.


Another important religious ritual during the Christmas season is the offering to the Baby Jesus, known as “Pago a la Niñita.” Families bring their own representation of the Baby Jesus, often a figurine or a doll dressed in traditional Andean clothing, to the church to be blessed. This act of devotion symbolizes the recognition and gratitude for the birth of Jesus and is a way for individuals and families to deepen their connection with their faith.


Additionally, in the days leading up to Christmas, various novenas, or nine-day religious rituals, are observed. Families and communities come together to recite prayers, sing hymns, and share in the joyous spirit of the season. These novenas are an essential part of the religious fabric of Cusco, fostering unity, devotion, and a sense of community among the faithful.


Christmas in Cusco is a time when religious traditions come alive, inspiring reverence and awe among the local community. The religious celebrations and rituals provide a deeper understanding of the spiritual significance of Christmas and serve to strengthen the bond between faith, culture, and history in this ancient Andean city.


Unique Christmas Foods and Drinks in Cusco

Christmas in Cusco is a time of indulgence and culinary delights. The holiday season brings forth a variety of unique and delicious traditional foods and beverages that are cherished by locals and visitors alike.


One iconic Christmas dish in Cusco is “chiriuchu,” a platter of assorted meats, cheeses, vegetables, and grains. It is a dish that reflects the fusion of indigenous and Spanish culinary traditions. Chiriuchu is meticulously arranged and beautifully presented, often served during special occasions such as Christmas. It is a true feast for the senses, with flavors and textures that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.


Another popular Christmas delicacy in Cusco is “panetón,” a sweet bread with Italian origins. While panetón is widely enjoyed throughout Peru during the holiday season, Cusco has its own unique twist on this delectable treat. Panetón Cusqueño is enriched with regional ingredients such as quinoa, figs, pecans, and local fruits, giving it a distinct flavor profile. Sharing a slice of Panetón Cusqueño with loved ones is a cherished Christmas tradition.


Quinoa, a staple ingredient in the Andean region, takes center stage during Christmas in Cusco. It is used in various festive dishes, such as “quinoa soup” and “quinoa pudding.” Quinoa soup is a hearty and nutritious dish made with vegetables, herbs, and sometimes meat. Quinoa pudding, on the other hand, is a sweet and creamy dessert, often flavored with cinnamon and raisins. These quinoa-based dishes showcase the versatility of this ancient grain.


When it comes to beverages, Cusco offers several unique Christmas drinks. “Colada Morada” is a popular warm beverage made with purple corn, fruits, and spices. It has a rich and comforting taste, providing a perfect way to warm up on a chilly Christmas evening. Another favorite is “ponche,” a warm alcoholic punch made with local fruits, spices, and pisco, a traditional Peruvian spirit. Sipping on a cup of ponche is a delightful way to celebrate the holiday season in Cusco.


Cusco is known for its vibrant markets, and during Christmas, they become even more exhilarating. Local vendors showcase an array of seasonal fruits, including exotic Andean varieties such as “tumbo,” “lucuma,” and “cherimoya.” These fruits can be enjoyed on their own or incorporated into various Christmas dishes and desserts, adding a tropical touch to the festivities.


Christmas in Cusco is not only a celebration of faith and tradition, but also a time to savor the flavors of the region. Each bite and sip of these unique Christmas foods and drinks is a sensory journey, immersing you in the culinary heritage of this extraordinary city.


Christmas Markets and Shopping in Cusco

During the Christmas season, the streets of Cusco come alive with bustling markets and vibrant shops, offering a wide array of unique handicrafts, traditional goods, and festive decorations.


The most renowned Christmas market in Cusco is the “Feria Navideña” or Christmas Fair, held in the Plaza de Armas. This lively market showcases a vast assortment of artisanal products, including handcrafted ornaments, intricately woven textiles, and pottery adorned with vibrant Andean designs. It’s the perfect place to find one-of-a-kind gifts or souvenirs that capture the essence of Cusco’s rich cultural heritage.


As you wander through the market, you’ll be surrounded by the scent of freshly baked goods. Local vendors offer an enticing array of Christmas treats, such as “turron,” a traditional nougat made with honey, nuts, and dried fruits, and “chocolateros,” hot chocolate served with sweet bread or local pastries. These delightful treats make for wonderful gifts or a delightful snack as you explore the market.


In addition to the Christmas Fair, other markets and shops throughout the city also participate in the festive spirit. San Blas Market, nestled in the bohemian neighborhood of San Blas, is a treasure trove for art lovers and collectors. Here, you can find unique handcrafted items, including paintings, jewelry, and wooden carvings, created by local artists.


The San Pedro Market, located near the historic Plaza San Francisco, offers a more traditional market experience. You can browse through the stalls, filled with a wide range of products, from fresh produce and spices to clothing and souvenirs. It’s a bustling place where you can immerse yourself in the local culture and find Christmas decorations and gifts.


While exploring the markets, don’t forget to visit the artisan workshops in Cusco, where skilled craftsmen and women demonstrate their traditional techniques. These workshops provide insight into the creative process behind the beautiful handmade crafts and allow you to purchase items directly from the artisans themselves, further supporting the local economy.


Christmas shopping in Cusco is not just about finding unique gifts; it’s also a cultural experience. The markets and shops of Cusco offer an opportunity to interact with the local community, learn about traditional crafts, and take a piece of Cusco’s vibrant culture home with you.


Christmas Events and Festivals in Cusco

Christmas in Cusco is a time of joyous celebration, marked by a variety of events and festivals that showcase the city’s cultural heritage and bring the community together in festive merriment.


One of the most anticipated events during the Christmas season is the Festival of Santuranticuy, celebrated annually on December 24th in the Plaza de Armas. This traditional Christmas market attracts artisans from all over the region, who gather to sell their handmade crafts and artwork. The festival is a colorful spectacle, with local vendors displaying their wares, street performers entertaining the crowds, and live music filling the air. It’s a true feast for the senses and a wonderful opportunity to experience the vibrant culture of Cusco.


Throughout the month of December, Cusco also hosts a series of concerts and music festivals, showcasing traditional Andean melodies and Christmas carols. These musical events are not only a celebration of talent but also a way to bring the community together in song and dance. From the enchanting sounds of pan flutes to the rhythmic beats of indigenous drums, the music of Christmas in Cusco is a delightful and immersive experience.


Religious processions are an integral part of the Christmas events in Cusco. On December 25th, the statue of the Baby Jesus, known as “Niño Manuelito,” is paraded through the streets with great reverence and fanfare. The procession is accompanied by traditional music, dancing, and the procession of the Saints. Devotees gather to offer prayers and pay homage to the birth of Jesus, creating a profound spiritual atmosphere.


Another event not to be missed is the lighting of the Christmas tree in the Plaza de Armas. This grand ceremony marks the official start of the Christmas season in Cusco. The towering tree, adorned with twinkling lights and colorful decorations, becomes a focal point of the city, attracting locals and tourists alike. The lighting ceremony is often accompanied by music, dance performances, and festive speeches, filling the atmosphere with excitement and anticipation.


Community-driven events, such as neighborhood parties and outdoor celebrations, also take place during Christmas in Cusco. These events provide an opportunity for friends, family, and neighbors to come together, share meals, exchange gifts, and celebrate the holiday season in a joyous and communal spirit.


Christmas events and festivals in Cusco are a testament to the city’s vibrant cultural heritage and the deep-rooted traditions that are celebrated with great enthusiasm. They offer visitors a unique opportunity to delve into the rich traditions and festivities that make Christmas in Cusco a truly magical experience.


Christmas Traditions in Indigenous Communities

Christmas traditions in Cusco extend beyond the city limits and are deeply ingrained in the customs and practices of the surrounding indigenous communities. These communities have their own unique ways of celebrating the holiday season, blending their rich cultural heritage with Christian influences.


One important aspect of Christmas in indigenous communities is the incorporation of traditional Andean rituals and beliefs into the celebrations. The Pachamama, or Mother Earth, is an integral part of Andean spirituality, and offerings are made to honor her during the Christmas season. Families gather to prepare ceremonial offerings, known as “payment to the Pachamama,” consisting of coca leaves, grains, and other items symbolizing gratitude and respect for the bounties of the Earth.


Music and dance play a vital role in the Christmas celebrations of indigenous communities. Traditional instruments such as pan flutes, drums, and stringed instruments are played, and communities come together to perform vibrant dances that depict stories of their history, nature, and religious beliefs. Through music and dance, these communities keep their cultural traditions alive and pass them down to the next generation.


In many indigenous communities, the Christmas festivities also revolve around the agricultural cycle. Many families participate in planting and harvesting rituals during this time, seeking blessings for a bountiful year ahead. They offer prayers and perform rituals to honor the fertility of the land and ensure a successful harvest, recognizing the close connection between their livelihoods and the natural world.


Traditional dress and textiles hold great importance during Christmas celebrations in indigenous communities. Men and women don their vibrant, intricately woven clothing, showcasing the beauty of their cultural heritage. These garments often feature symbolic patterns and colors that reflect their connection to nature and ancestral beliefs.


Food plays a central role in the Christmas traditions of indigenous communities. Local ingredients are used to prepare traditional dishes that have been passed down through generations. Meat from llamas or alpacas, potatoes, corn, and various Andean grains take center stage in these hearty meals. Families gather to share these festive feasts, bonding over a sense of community and gratitude for the blessings of the land.


Christmas traditions in indigenous communities highlight the resilience and preservation of their cultural identity and values. Through the blending of indigenous rituals and Christian customs, these communities create a unique and meaningful celebration of Christmas that reflects their deep connection to their ancestral traditions and the natural world.


Christmas in the Andean Mountains

Christmas in the Andean Mountains offers a truly enchanting and distinct experience that encapsulates the beauty of nature and the vibrant cultural traditions of the region. As you ascend to higher altitudes, the Christmas celebrations take on a unique flavor, influenced by the rugged landscapes and ancient traditions of the Andes.


One of the striking aspects of Christmas in the Andean Mountains is the profound connection with nature. The Andean people, deeply rooted in their indigenous beliefs, find spiritual significance in the surrounding mountains, lakes, and rivers. Many communities undertake special ceremonies and offerings, presenting gratitude to the Apus (mountain spirits) and Pachamama (Mother Earth) for their abundant blessings.


The presence of the Andean landscapes beautifully complements the Christmas celebrations. In some villages, residents come together to construct “belenes,” outdoor nativity scenes placed against the breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped peaks or picturesque valleys. These belenes are a unique reflection of the local culture and the integration of Christian beliefs into the natural wonders of the Andes.


Christmas Eve in the Andean Mountains is traditionally celebrated with the “Misa de Gallo,” or Rooster’s Mass. Participants gather in the local chapel or church, often illuminated by candles, to commemorate the birth of Jesus. The crisp mountain air resonates with the echoes of traditional hymns sung fervently by the faithful, while the flickering candlelight creates a serene and ethereal atmosphere.


During the Christmas season, the melodies of traditional Andean instruments, such as the quena (flute) and charango (stringed instrument), fill the air. Local musicians serenade the communities with lively folk music, accompanying the joyful celebrations. The rhythmic sounds and enchanting melodies reflect the profound connection between the Andean people and their cultural heritage.


Traditional Andean cuisine takes center stage during Christmas in the mountains. Locally grown ingredients, such as tubers, quinoa, and alpaca meat, are transformed into hearty and flavorful dishes. Many communities celebrate with “pachamanca,” a feast prepared by cooking an assortment of meats and vegetables in an underground oven, symbolizing the harmony between the earth and sustenance.


Gift-giving is an essential part of Christmas in the Andean Mountains, just as in other regions. Families come together to exchange presents, which often include handcrafted items such as textiles, pottery, or intricately woven baskets. Each gift represents a heartfelt gesture, showcasing the creativity and craftsmanship of the local communities.


Christmas in the Andean Mountains is not just a celebration; it is a testament to the resilience, spirituality, and cultural heritage of the Andean people. The festive traditions, blended with the awe-inspiring natural surroundings, create an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of Christmas in this majestic mountain region.



Christmas in Cusco is a time of enchantment, where centuries-old traditions blend with vibrant festivities to create a unique and memorable holiday experience. The city’s rich cultural heritage, shaped by indigenous traditions and Spanish colonial influences, comes alive during this joyous season.


From the historic churches and elaborate nativity scenes to the traditional Christmas decorations and vibrant markets, Cusco offers a captivating glimpse into the cultural richness of the region. The streets are filled with music, dance, and the aroma of delicious traditional foods, inviting locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in the festive spirit.


Religious celebrations and rituals, such as the Misa de Gallo and the processions, highlight the deep spiritual significance of Christmas in Cusco. These traditions provide a unique opportunity to witness the unity and devotion of the local community.


The indigenous communities surrounding Cusco also play a crucial role in preserving and celebrating the traditions of Christmas. Their incorporation of ancient rituals, music, and traditional dress adds a distinct and authentic touch to the festivities, reminding us of the rich cultural tapestry that exists in the Andean region.


As you explore the Andean Mountains, the awe-inspiring landscapes become a backdrop for the Christmas celebrations. The connection between nature and spirituality is evident, with special ceremonies and offerings that express gratitude for the abundant blessings of the mountains and the earth.


Moreover, the Christmas season in Cusco is an occasion to appreciate the craftsmanship of local artisans and to support the community through the purchase of unique, handcrafted items. The markets and shops are filled with meticulously crafted ornaments, textiles, and artwork, allowing you to bring a piece of Cusco’s vibrant culture home with you.


Witnessing Christmas in Cusco is a journey that engages all the senses. The sights, sounds, tastes, and aromas of this magical time combine to create an unforgettable experience. It is a celebration of faith, culture, and community that leaves a lasting impression on our hearts.


So come and embrace the warmth and joy of Christmas in Cusco. Immerse yourself in the traditions, participate in the festivities, and create cherished memories that will stay with you long after the holiday season has ended.