People don’t go overboard with holiday decorating in our part of Peru. There are stalls in the market selling artificial trees, garlands and ornaments, but there’s not a lot to see along the streets. Since Christmas falls at the beginning of the summer, there’s an emphasis on having get-togethers, going to the beach, and celebrating with family.
This year, there’s a lot of wait-and-see in the holiday equation. During most of the summer last year (2020-2021), people were not allowed to go onto the beach, nor were they allowed to stroll the sidewalk along the beach. Now we are able to go on our daily walk down the sidewalk and return along the beach, but there are rumblings that gatherings of any size will be forbidden between Christmas and New Years, and that the police will patrol the beach to enforce the rules. This is particularly threatening in a place where the police are known to pad their salaries with fines collected from members of the public.
New regulations appear to be issued every evening, as every morning, our driver Carlos tells us what the latest additions to the list have been. The government is trying to avoid a huge surge of illness after the holiday, though it is an uphill battle to convince people that they should avoid large family gatherings. People come from all over the world to visit family at this time of year.
As of Dec. 23, 2021 we have:
- No overnight camping on the beach
- Curfew from 11 pm to 4 am on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. Social events and gatherings are not permitted to include more than the occupants of one dwelling.
- Sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on beaches, rivers, and at swimming pools is prohibited on Dec. 25, 26, 31, Jan. 1, and 2
- On the days mentioned, restaurants need special permits to be open and cannot sell or serve alcohol.
Normally, 20-60 people camp overnight on the beach between Christmas and New Years, drink beer and other adult beverages in restaurants, on the sidewalk, and on the beach during the day and in the evenings for the entire holiday season. There are no sanitary facilities for campers, plus there’s danger of broken glass, and occasional drunken revelers on the sidewalk early in the morning. Those of us who live along the beach may not appreciate campers, but it is a local tradition. We are not sure what is going to happen with the new rules, whether they will be enforced, or circumvented.
Peru has had an overnight curfew for some time, from 1-4 am. Moving the curfew earlier, especially before midnight, is HUGE. In Peru, on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, people may attend midnight mass, or stay home to celebrate midnight with family, and then they go out. Overnight celebration is a very big deal and involves lots of people. Discos and dance halls get to stay open all night, and revelers buy grilled meat, stuffed potatoes, chips, and soda from sidewalk vendors. Closing down at 11 pm suggests there will be no celebration at all. One memorable New Year’s Eve, when we were new to local customs, we strolled down the street at 11 pm tut-tutting that business was so poor, and the bars were not going to have much going on. We returned home and went to bed shortly after the turn of midnight. Within about a half hour, there was loud music from multiple locations that continued all night long, and when we got up the next morning and opened the shutters facing the street, there was a naked man sleeping on the sidewalk across from our front door. The party definitely revved up after midnight.
Closing restaurants at this relatively late point before the holidays will affect all the small places that have been straightening up, painting, and purchasing food this week. Many places planned to open on Christmas Eve, then stay in business as long as customers turned up. Many don’t even make it to Easter, traditionally the end of the season. The Christmas tree in front of Tato’s Restaurant, probably the best known eatery in all of Barranca, suggests they are ready for holiday crowds, and not planning to be closed. Many businesses make 25% or more of their annual income during the next two weeks.
Despite the lengthening list of prohibited activities, vendors are selling toys in stalls up and down one of the main streets. Yellow underwear is on sale, ready for anyone who needs to get some good luck by wearing it on the 31st. It is customary to give household help a turkey for Christmas, and we went to collect the two we had reserved, and found the chicken vendor overwhelmed with turkeys in all states of processing. In Peru, you know where your food comes from.
We have a live Christmas tree that will eventually be added to the back yard. It’s a Norfolk pine, a variety that grows well here on the beach. I’ve made a few holiday cookies, gingerbread with a bit of frosting, and sesame shortbread that is very good indeed. I’ll share a few with my neighbors, the man who delivers the newspaper, our local lifeguard, and our household helpers.
My Christmas creche consists of a lot of tiny animals I’ve collected over the years, and the Christmas family, magi, and several baby Jesuses. They all get to come out and celebrate.
We are doing our best to keep spirits bright during this season, and we wish you all the company of good friends and family.