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Christmas in Peru

On our return from Quillabamba just before Christmas Eve, we returned to Emma’s house, at which we’d been based before leaving Cusco, the willing recipients of an invitation to spend Christmas with the family.  A quick tour around the Cusco christmas market yielded a drunkenly leaning pine tree offcut, which was decorated suitably with (luckily shatterproof) baubles courtesy of a kindly sent package by Lou’s mum.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I attended mass on Christmas Eve; invited by Emma, it seemed too interesting an opportunity to miss, and didn’t dissapoint.  Sadly no photos exist to tell the tale (it seemed a bit in appropriate to take them) but the majority of the experience would not be done justice by them anyway.  Led by a charismatic priest who was a skilled and engaging orator, the service lasted about an hour and was a mixture of guitar-led singing, moving speeches about the importance of forgiveness, family and community at christmas time and the solumn rituals of giving communion.  Delightfully, the edge was taken off the seriousness of the occasion by the tinny and perpertual noise of commercial christmas tunes produced by the flashing lights that were one of the adorning features of the vast nativity scene in the corner of the church (so large that the assistant priest took a couple of minutes to clamber over the scene to ceremoniously place the baby Jesus in his rightful position on the crib).  The mood was also lightened by the escape of a pair of small dogs from the rear chambers of the church, who rushed about the church during the ceremony, delighted to be the centre of attention.  The finest moment of the ceremony for me was when one dog, intent on entering one of the rooms behind the alter, engaged in a hilarous silent faceoff with one of the assistant priests who was trying desperately to balance the necessary air of solemnity and holiness with an overwhelming desire to put a boot up the cheeky creature’s backside.

Next on the agenda was the Peruvian custom of hot chocolate and panetone, recieved well by all concerned.

Christmas day itself was surprisingly familiar; a small present opening session in the morning, thanks to kind friends and family who had sent out various packages, a large lunch wich left everyone stuffed and comatose and family games in the afternoon, socialogical proof that human beings of any country can still get amusingly competative when playing Pictionary.

The one notable difference was, our gifts from the UK aside, the distinct lack of presents exchanged by Peruvians.  The day was for spending time with family, and commerce didn’t get a look in.  A bit sad to think that there’ll be a fine selection of Brits calling the citizen’s advice bureau this new year trying to get advice on how to pay off the debt that they’ve accrued buying gifts for each other that so clearly miss the point of the holiday period.  At least it’s something that has not infiltrated Peru.

Cusco, Peru
28th December 2009

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