Christmas in Cusco: Our First Christmas Away from Family | Week 82 Abroad

Christmas in Cusco: Our First Christmas Away from Family | Week 82 Abroad

The commercialization of Christmas has always bothered me, so we decided to focus Christmas around Jesus Christ and not Santa when Whit was little. We filled the weeks leading up to the big day with talk about the Savior’s birth, recounting of the nativity story with our toy children’s nativity set, planning acts of kindness for our neighbors and friends, and spending time with family. 

This is the first year we aren’t celebrating Christmas with our familiar books, toys, and decorations or with extended family, and it didnt’ hit me until this week how hard it would be. 

Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the spirit of doing good can happen anywhere, right? Well, yes, but the truth is that there’s a lot of magic around Christmas that Whit is missing out on this year. A lot of magic I hadn’t really considered in past years. 

I saw a meme the other day that said, “Dear Mom: The magic I’m creating for my children is because of the magic you created for me.” It reminded me that I’ve always been spiritual and was raised to focus on Christ during the Christmas season, but we had a lot of fun, too. I remember leaving cookies for Santa, trying to stay awake to see him on Christmas Eve, and getting one really great present from him every year. 

My mom did a great job of teaching me what the Christmas holiday was really about while also allowing me to have some childish fun. 

This year we don’t have the Christmas books we’d read every night, we don’t have our toy nativity set or family ornament collection, we don’t have any friends nearby to leave 12 Days of Christmas surprises for, and we can’t find materials to make and decorate Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses (not that I could eat them, anyway.) 

I didn’t realize how much those “commercial” activities helped us embrace the true meaning of Christmas! 

Unfortunately, Whit is more interested in the Christmas magic than ever. We talked years ago about how Santa was more a representation of the love and goodness of Christ than a real person, and he was always ok with that, but suddenly this year he wants to send a letter to Santa asking for his elves to make a special gift! Where did this belief come from?

So I’m in full mom-guilt mode, because a) I’ve always downplayed the magic of Christmas but realize that my son really needs it, and b) now that I wish I could give him the magic he desires we aren’t in a position to actually do it. 


We are doing our best, though, and I think Whit is doing a great job accepting our limitations! 

In between short hikes to local Inka ruins, exploring the new streets and foods of Cusco, volunteering at a nearby charity school, and Whit’s daily Spanish lessons (Which are going so well!) we’ve found time to try and gear up for Christmas. 

We found a local Christmas market set up in the middle of a city plaza with rows of vendors selling all sorts of Christmas decorations and let Whit have free reign over deciding what to buy for our small AirBnB. We came home with a 40” tree (40 soles), a gold garland (6 soles), 4 handmade ornaments (20 soles), a string of colored tree lights (5 soles), a small tree skirt (10 soles), a snowman stocking (10 soles), and a blue bell door hanger (5 soles). 

We made hot chocolate, listened to classic Christmas songs, and decorated our living room (the musical tree lights were a nice surprise!), but Whit wasn’t convinced we were quite ready. 

Over the next few days he came home with 6 keychains bought from souvenir vendors with leftover snack money we gave him for Spanish school. Not only did his Spanish tutors find his haggling skills hilarious, the keychains turned our  boring tree into a traveler’s dream. 

But it still wasn’t enough. 

We added a trip to Cusco’s only mall where a pack of colored paper was the closest thing we found to a craft store. Whit and I carefully cut out and decorated trees, candy canes, ornaments, snowmen, stars, and present boxes which he taped to the walls of our living room. 

By the end of the Sunday before Christmas we had heard Christmas messages at church (we assume, since it was all in formal Spanish), watched the LDS’s First Presidency Christmas Devotional, a Christmas movie, decorated our house, sang Christmas songs, and had copious amounts of delicious Peruvian hot chocolate. 

Whit’s Aunt, Brett, sent us $10 to give Whit as a Christmas gift, so our Christmas Eve included walking through the huge craft market temporarily set up around Cusco’s downtown Plaza de Armas. We had a great time wandering the stalls even as it began to rain, and Whit, who loves shopping, was on cloud nine as we explained he could buy nearly everything he wanted.

Brett requested he buy llama items, and Whit took the suggestion seriously. He ended up with a toy llama covered in baby alpaca fur, a set of wool gloves with alpacas crocheted into them, and a llama hat. Yes, a llama hat. In rainbow.


We got home pretty late that night, but leaving cookies for Santa was a Christmas tradition that was really important to me. We’re somewhat limited in what we can make, though, since it’s hard to find traditional baking materials and I’m gluten free. Our best option was rice krispie treats made with marshmallows and puffed quinoa, but Whit and I don’t think Santa will mind the variation.

Luckily it didn’t take long to convince Whit to go to bed, and once we were sure he was asleep Ben and I spent a few minutes carefully wrappings his few toys- a remote control car “from Santa”, the pair of binoculars he’d been wanting for months, and a new watch. I even responded to his santa letter by writing him a decorative letter from Santa. I sealed it with candle wax thanking him for being so good while traveling this year and asking him to be a good boy next year.

This will be magical!

We awoke before 6:00 am to Whit the next morning, but we were too excited for him to try and get him to go back to sleep. This is all about him, after all!

He loved his presentes and felt so special. He’d actually forgotten about the binoculars he’d spent weeks begging for once we left Colombia, and seeing them again was a great surprise for him.

I am so proud of how satisfied and happy he was with his meager Christmas offering, and that he never complained or asked for more. Success!

I think my favorite part of Christmas morning, though, was when Aunt Brett and some cousins called to wish us Merry Christmas. Since we’d been awake for so long we decided to go on an impromptu hike after breakfast, and she called just after we donned our coats and hats. We didn’t think anything of Whit answering the video call while wearing his rainbow llama hat until we heard hoards of laughing coming from the phone. Ben and I have come to accept and normalize Whit’s unusual accessories choices, but we saw it with fresh eyes through my sister and were soon all in stitches.

Good times.

My enduring plan for Christmas day is to spend time talking about Christ, being with family, and trying to perform some acts of service, but our impromptu hike from mountaintop ruins to an adorable town outside of Cusco turned out to be perfect.

We bought a bag of suckers before getting onto a local bus to Pisac, and Whit loved the responsibility of handing them out to all of the children we saw along the way. The hike from the Pisac ruins down to the town of Pisac was stunningly beautiful, and possibly one of my favorite hikes ever.

We only passed a few other holiday explorers, and instead had a great time talking about our family, counting down our top travel moments of 2019, and considering the difference between Incan and modern culture.

It was definitely an unorthodox holiday, but it was really special to celebrate Christmas in Peru this year. I love my family so much!