To talk about Easter is to talk about Christianity, and to talk about Easter in Peru is to talk about a variety of traditions in the country. The most common traditions began during the colonial times when the Spaniards brought their culture, and their religion, to Peru.
In Peru, that religion, Roman Catholicism, is still important:
- for many traditional families who live in Lima City
- in faraway towns in the country
- among the migrants who have come into Lima City from the Andes Highlands, the Amazon Rainforest or the many small valleys scattered along the coast
But among this last group, the migrants, are our young friends, the children who are sponsored.
In Peru, Easter is a solemn celebration. Holy Week begins the Sunday before Easter; therefore, schools are closed for the entire week so that the children and teenagers may participate in the special celebrations together with their parents – either in Lima or visiting relatives away from the capital city.
The evangelical churches initiate a special week of celebrations with evangelistic campaigns and camping programs for the youth and also for the entire family to have a special retreat.
The churches give their children the opportunity to participate actively in the celebration at church or at the camping site, according to their age. The younger children learn that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, but that also He is risen, while the older children participate at special programs at church to present to the community during the evangelistic campaign on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
The young university students who belong to evangelical churches prepare programs intended to present the plan of salvation to the youth who have never been to church. The students prepare something special, such as Christian concerts and dramas, which will draw the attention of that specific group. The programs are presented in an open place, such as a big park.
Some of these university students organize special trips to visit faraway churches in order to present dramas or to sing during the special church services previously organized by local churches.
Other students have the gift to visit people in jail to preach and give counseling. For example, some may visit those who have been caught taking drugs from the country; many of these are foreigners and do not have relatives or friends in Peru.
These students go together with their pastors taking gifts and doing Christian concerts. They give testimony of their past life and bring those prisoners hope and a new joy. These young university students take seriously Matthew 25:36 (NIV).
“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Talking about Easter gifts, if the family belongs to a high social class, their children receive chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday. They even participate in contests about painting an egg organized at their school or by a local supermarket.
But a child who belongs to a traditional family, who is part of a low social class, or who lives in extreme poverty, isn’t aware of Easter gifts.
When the children at one of our child development centers were asked about “Easter eggs,” the majority were surprised with the question. Some have seen ads on TV about chocolate eggs, but since they aren’t sold in their community, they just do not care much about it.
The children just enjoy their time being out of school and eating some traditional dishes. They gather at somebody’s home who has a TV set, together with their siblings and friends, to watch the special TV programs that are shown on Easter, old films such as Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Jesus, and many other religious movies.
All the people who live in small cities and towns close to colonial Lima City become part of a big celebration. A grand procession takes place. Statues of Jesus carrying His cross and the Virgin dressed all in black are carried on large platforms through the streets.
In some parts of Lima City, local transportation is diverted by the policemen who try their best to alleviate the chaos. They whistle to give directions to the drivers who go through the old and narrow colonial streets bursting with the activity of hundreds of devoted people following the procession.
The people walk slowly and pray while passing through the narrow streets. People who live there gather on their homes’ balconies to salute the statues. They throw rose petals on both statues as a special offering.
Meanwhile the street vendors take advantage of the occasion to offer their goods, such as traditional foods, sodas, candies, etc. Therefore, there is not only devotion, but also noisy crowds and different kinds of smells coming from the great variety of dishes being prepared to be offered to the devoted people.
In this procession, not so many children are seen because of the big crowds and the long distances to walk that become endless because of the procession’s slow pace. Usually children get tired and bored because they are not much aware of the situation.
The statues carried in the procession are of high value since they were brought from Spain four to five centuries ago. Besides being a work of art, the statue of the Virgin is unusual because the statue’s hair is real, donated by some young lady who has given it as a special gift. The statue wears an expensive silk dress and lots of jewelry that has been donated by rich people throughout the centuries.
The platforms the statues are carried on are quite heavy, and each one requires at least a dozen men to carry it. The group is replaced by different groups of men after carrying it for some distance. The procession is accompanied by a band of musicians and many ladies who walk singing and carrying incense in special gold containers.
During Holy Week there is always something going on, such as the “Feet Washing Ceremony” that takes place at the cathedral in Lima City as well as in all Roman Catholic churches in the country. There the priest washes the feet of 12 men who are just common citizens.
On Good Friday, many people prepare “The Seven Dishes,” but it is traditional to cook different recipes using only fish.
In the afternoon, the Roman Catholic Cardinal preaches at the main cathedral of Lima. He speaks about “The Last Seven Words of Jesus.” This is transmitted across the country through the media.
There are many more traditions to be told, although many more have been already forgotten with the passing of the years and can be found only in history books.