Volunteer Leah Hughes in Cusco Part VII: Christmas in Cusco
Merry Christmas everybody! We had a lovely Christmas celebration in Casa Mosqoy on December 24th, which is the main holiday for Peruvians. Most of the students had been in their home communities over the weekend, but everybody came back to celebrate together on Christmas Eve. There was a wonderful festive atmosphere in the house as the students returned one by one and greeted each other cheerfully. They had done a good job decorating Casa Mosqoy in the weeks leading up to Christmas and it felt quite cozy. Some students had put up cardboard Santa cut-outs or icicle lights in their bedroom windows. A couple weeks ago, a few of the boys ventured up the hillside behind the house and cut down a tree. It was a small tree by Canadian standards, but it looked beautiful covered in lights and decorations.
Once all the students had arrived we began preparing for the festivities. The house got a thorough cleaning and everybody busily wrapped their presents for the gift exchange. Christmas carols echoed throughout the house the entire time and I caught some of the boys energetically dancing as they mopped the floor (actually not an unusual sight in the house). Once everybody was ready, we had a group Skype call to Ashli in British Columbia. It was great to have all the students together in one room chatting with Ashli and her family back home. She showed us her Christmas tree and the students sang a couple Christmas carols. It’s amazing how modern technology can really bring people together even when you’re thousands of kilometers apart.
After our skype reunion, we headed downstairs to enjoy hot chocolate and “panetón”. Panetón is a boxed Christmas bread with candied fruit inside. I’ve seen people carrying it home from the stores for weeks now and was happy to finally try it! A few of the students made short speeches about Christmas and the values of the holiday season. We said a short Christmas prayer and then enjoyed our tasty treats! Then it was time for the gift exchange. We had arranged a secret Santa in the house and everybody had placed their colourfully wrapped gifts under the tree. The gift exchange was thoroughly entertaining. We had great fun as Jose Luis held up each gift, and the person giving it went and stood by the tree holding their present. They then described the “secret friend” they had bought the gift for and we all tried to guess who it was. This resulted in gales of laughter and some very funny descriptions. It was really touching to see how some of the students described their good friends and housemates. Everybody gave their secret Santa a big hug and then opened the gift and showed it to the rest of us.
Once the gift exchange was complete, it was time for (more) dessert! Jose Luis had shown me and a few of the students how to prepare a special holiday treat. It is simple and delicious. I will definitely be preparing this again in the future! You first cut the core out of an apple, and then put a handful of raisins in the centre. Pour sweet red wine into the cavity and sprinkle brown sugar on top. Place the apples in a pan and fill it halfway with water and wine. Bake the apples until they are golden brown, juicy and delicious!
We enjoyed our dessert apples along with a glass of red wine. Everybody remained sitting around the table chatting, enjoying the food and admiring their gifts until nearly midnight. As 12:00 approached, a bottle of champagne was brought out. We counted down to midnight together, and at the stroke of twelve raised our glasses and drank. It was almost like New Year’s as everybody cheerfully exchanged hugs and kisses, accompanied by Christmas wishes and thanks for their friendship. Then we went outside and admired the fireworks going off all across the city! A few students had procured fireworks of their own and proceeded to set them off in the road in front of the house. They were mostly firecrackers and were great fun as we all ran away laughing and covering our ears. After the fireworks display I was content and sleepy. I tucked myself into bed while some of the students continued celebrating downstairs over the remaining wine. The festivities had been merry indeed, and it was very interesting for me to see how Christmas is celebrated in Peru. Everybody was in great spirits, and we really did feel like a family in Casa Mosqoy. I hope that everybody reading had equally happy holidays filled with joy and love!