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Hartford's Peruvian community delights in festive chocolatada Christmas celebration

Melissa Gamonal (l) and Flor Torres.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
/
Connecticut Public
Melissa Gamonal, left, and Flor Torres serve chocolatada at the Maria Reina de la Paz church in Hartford.

Imagine it’s a cold day and you're looking for a way to warm up. What better way than with a big cup of hot cocoa?

In Peru, this is a beloved Christmas tradition known as chocolatada.

Peruvian chocolatada is a hot chocolate beverage with cocoa, milk and sugar, featuring distinctive spices like cinnamon, cloves, butter and chuño – freeze-dried potato.

It’s especially popular among low-income families, with events called chocolatadas aimed at providing warmth and joy to children in need.

Members of the Peruvian community recently gathered at the Maria Reina de la Paz church in Hartford to celebrate.

The Torres family organizes the annual event. They’re also founders of the Santa Rosa de Lima fraternity. President and executive director Luz Elizabeth Torres said their family is dedicated to preserving their cultural tradition and the legacy of their father, Victor Torres, through his contributions to the community.

“This event has been coming up for many years already,” Torres said. “It started with my father. He always wanted to bring a smile to a kid's face, so even though he's gone now, you still keep the tradition."

People gathered in the church’s community room, which was adorned with vibrant streamers. Over 100 young children eagerly formed a line to enter the party.

Children received candy-filled bags and sat with their parents. Volunteers dressed as elves distributed toys, sparking excitement as children anticipated their surprises.

Santa Claus – or Papá Noel as they call him in Peru – also made an appearance. The children could hardly contain their excitement as they rushed to take pictures with him, sitting on his lap and telling him their Christmas wishes.

Luis Tagan, originally from Guatemala, was with his 3-year-old daughter Fatima, who liked being with Santa and taking pictures with him.

“This is new and different for us. The hot chocolatada with panettone is famous. This is a lovely fraternity,” Tagan said.

The chocolatada isn’t just about the hot cocoa; it’s often served with a slice of panettone, a sweet bread introduced to Peru during the early 1900s by Italian immigrants.

While there are many theories on how the chocolatada tradition originated, it is believed to have been brought over during Spanish colonization in the early 1500s. Over time, the drink evolved into a way to bring people together during the holiday season.

The Peruvian chocolatada is a Christmas party, but it’s also a celebration of culture, community and giving, said Luz Torres, mother of Luz Elizabeth Torres.

“May everything be happiness and prosperity in the coming year,” she said. “And to my Peruvian community, always pray for our country.”

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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