Overnight, this desert city melting in the heat of summer transformed into a Christmas wonderland.
Suddenly, on the afternoon on the 24th, twinkling lights appeared in everyone's windows, panetones rushed out bakery door and last-minute present buyers saturated the downtown's main avenues.
On Christmas Eve, an informal street mall formed. All the ambulantes, or street vendors, filled up the sidewalks with food, decorations, lights, presents and firecrackers. Buyers looking for gifts and Christmas dinner items packed the streets!
I was shocked! Everyone in the States had been in their warm home since sunset, escaping the winter cold. But on the streets of Peru, there was a veritable holiday mob!
I asked Sergio why, and his explanation was interesting. Many people save centavos all month until, at the last possible moment, they buy what they can for Christmas dinner and gifts. He added that it might also do with the Peruvian "I'll do it mañana" policy.
Sergio, his parents, a friend from the bakery and I ate Christmas eve dinner at 11:30 p.m. On the menu were turkey (head and feet included), mashed potatoes and five different salads.
The salads are a traditional part of the meal. From the photo below, 1) the purple salad= beats; 2) orange= mango, carrots and chicken; 3) green= broccoli and orange in a sweet sauce; 4) rainbow= marshmallows and grapes; and 5) my favorite= green bean salad with bacon and raisins! The other plate is sweet potato!
Halfway through dinner, we heard booms outside. It was midnight, we realized, as we ran upstairs to see how Arequipa welcomed in Christmas Day, and the birth of their savior:
These fireworks went on for 15 minutes across town. We woke up to a few booms in the morning too.
After dinner, we tried to eat some panetón and hot chocolate, but we were all very tired and full. Sergio's dad must have pushed down four full plates at least!
But we stuck it out to open a few presents after 2 a.m. I guess the gift exchange is not a big tradition with Sergio's family, but he wanted to share an American tradition he had brought back. I'm sure it was partly for me, too.
Sergio's dad, who can be a curmudgeon, got the nickname Grinch for most of the night. But his heart grew a few sizes when he opened up a framed photo of his three sons who, until this past August, had not been together for five years. A few tears escaped him.
And even though she could barely keep her eyes open from an exhausting day of work, Sergio's mom reacted equally to her framed photo. "Oh, mis hijitos! Chanchitos! Bebitos!" ("Oh, my little boys! Little piggies! Little babies!")
As for me and my first Christmas away from my family and snowy Colorado, it couldn't have been more memorable.