Feasts and Festivals in Cusco
The spirit of Peruvian Man, sculpted by art and religion, has given rise to a creative vein which crops up in an endless variety of shapes, rhythms and rituals. Year after year, more than 3,000 folk festivals, 1,500 musical styles and countless arts and crafts confirm that Peru is home to one of the most varied folk legacies on Earth. With this outpouring of artistic expression, Peruvians feed on their deep-lying roots to project a timeless alliance with nature and through rhythms and colors, strengthen their commitment to life and extend to visitors the hospitality and reciprocity that are so typical of Peruvian culture. The many festivals, even those of a religious nature, reveal the joyus nature of Peruvians, both men and women, their inclination to be sociable and share their hopes.
Festivals and rituals in Cuzco
Cuzco celebrates some hundreds festivals a year. Most of them are held in homage to a patron saint and are part of the Christian calendar adopted in colonial times, although they have blended with the magical beliefs of ancient forms of worship.
The celebrations of the Holy Week, Carnivals, Corpus Christi, and the feast of “Señor de los Temblores” (Lord of the Earthquakes), have special significance for cusquenians, becoming a great folkloric expression of their people.
The maximum expression of folklore from the people of Cuzco is given in the Inti Raymi.
“Fiesta de Ollantaytambo” (Ollantaytambo’s Feast)
January 6 – Ollantaytambo
Feast that celebrates the “Reyes Magos” (Magic Kings), religious processions, great folkloric dances.
“Fiesta de San Sebastián” (San Sebastian’s Feast)
January 20 – San Sebastián
Religious feast of the town’s patron, great folkloric dances and invitation of food and fruit.
January 20 – Province of Canas, District of Yanaoca (Community of Checa)
A ritual fight among the people of the communities of Checa and Quehue who struggle against each other in war games to stimulate the fertility of the land. The winning community receives the larger portion of land. The men are armed with slings, leather whips, and sticks and dress in vests decorated with flowers. The women assist by caring for the horses, collecting stones, and cheering for the men with songs.
“Carnavales” (Carnivals) – The festival of Joy
Peruvian carnivals are marked by the festive character of Andean areas, which regularly break with their solemn traditions. Beyond regional variations, a common characteristic of nearly the entire highland chain is the ritual of the yunza, called umisha in the jungle and cortamonte on the coast. It involves artificially planting a tree trunk laden with gifts, around which the guests dance until it is chopped with a machete or an ax. The couple who make the final hack that brings down the tree will then both be in charge of organizing the yunza next year. Peruvians across the country are extremely fond of tossing buckets of water at each other during this festival, so onlookers would be wise to take precautions.
February 2nd – Province of Chumbivilcas, District of Livitaca (Toctopata)
These take place in Toqto, a town located between the Districts of Yanaoca and Livitaca. The fights last three days and represent the past when the people fought to receive more land. On the first day, people settle down in the place; the second day, one-on-one fights begin, and later, groups of five to ten men are formed. After eating and drinking, everyone fights on the third day, and when the games end, the wounded are taken care of and the communities perform the qhaswa (a party for both winners and losers)
“Señor de los Temblores” (Lord of the Earthquakes)
The Black Christ and the Carmesí flower
2nd half of March-1st week of April
Ever since 1.650, when the faithful claim that an oil painting of Christ on the Cross held off a devastating earthquake that was rattling the city of Cuzco, the locals have been rendering homage to the image of Taitacha Temblores, the Lord of the Earthquakes. The celebration is held on Easter Monday against the backdrop of Easter Week in the city of Cuzco. This celebration is of particular interest because it allows onlookers to get a glimpse of the fusion of Andean religions and Christianity. The Cuzco Cathedral, where the image is kept, is built on the foundations of the ancient temple dedicated to the pagan god Apulla Tikse Wiracocha. The image of the Lord of Earthquakes is borne aloft in a procession through the streets of the city just as the Incas used to parade the mummies of their chieftains, high priests and supreme rulers. In the end, the dominating part of the celebration involves the ñucchu flower (salvia esplendes), used as an offering to the ancient gods Kon and Wiracocha. The same flower today is used to weave a crown for the Lord of the Earthquakes. This crimson colored flower, whose petals are scattered by the faithful over the venerated image, symbolizes the blood of Christ. The image used today was donated by King Charles V, and despite centuries of smoke from the candles and incense, no one has dared to restore the blackened painting, that has given the Christ a somber aspect and a dark countenance.
“Señor de Torrechayoc”
May (variable) – Province of Urubamba, District of Urubamba.
This festival began in 1860 when an enormous cross was placed in the snow, and the opening of a section of railway (Urubamba-Lares) was celebrated with a mass. Years later, the cross was carried to the city of Urubamba where they began a worship of it. In addition to a mass, the cross is carried in a procession with all its jewels. There are fireworks, parades of dancers, bullfights, and cockfights.
Religious-pagan feast, takes place in the country during the night, where the crosses in the hills are venerated, during the next morning these crosses are taken to the churches.
First week of full moon in June – Province of Quispicanchi, District of Ocongate.
The greatest indigenous pilgrimage in the Americas
Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual whose external aspect appears to be the image of Christ, but whose real objective is to bring Man closer to Nature. The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of Apus, the spirits of the mountains, forms part of the greatest festival of native Indian nations in the hemisphere: Qoyllur Rit’i. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate, at 4.700 meters, where temperatures often plunge below freezing.
The ritual brings thousands of pilgrims, including shepherds, traders and the merely curious who gather at the shrine at Sinakara. Popular belief has it that the infant Christ, dressed as a shepherd, appeared to a young highland Indian boy, Marianito Mayta, and they quickly became friends. When Mayta’s parents found them dressed in rich tunics, they informed the local parish priest, Pedro de Landa, who attempted in vain to capture the infant Christ who had disappeared and left behind only a stone. Marianito died immediately, and the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i appeared on the stone. Today, the festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 10.000 pilgrims climb to the snowline, accompanied by all sorts of dancers in full costume (chauchos, qollas, pabluchas or ukukus) portray various mythical characters. The ukukus, or bears, are the guardians of the Lord and the Apu mountain spirits and apachetas, stone cairns built along the way by pilgrims to atone for their sins. The ukukus maintain order during religious ceremonies. A group of hefty queros, members of what is probably Peru’s purest Quechua community, dress up as pabluchas and set out for the mountaintop, at 6.362 meters in search of the Snow Star which is reputedly buried within the mountain. On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.
The festival of Corpus Christi has been celebrated all over Peru since colonial times, but reaches a high point in Cuzco. Fifteen saints and virgins from various districts are borne in a procession to the Cathedral where they “greet” the body of Christ embodied in the Sacred Host, kept in a fabulous gold goblet weighing 26 kilos and standing 1,2 meters high. Sixty days after Easter Sunday, the members of each nearby church bear their patron saint in a procession to the chimes of the María Angola, Peru’s largest church bell, forged in a copper-gold alloy in the sixteenth century by local artisan Diego Arias de Cerda. At night everyone gathers together, for an overnight vigil, where typical dishes such as chiriuchu (spicy guinea pig), beer, chicha and cornbread are served. At dawn the procession sets off around the main square, bearing the images of five virgins clad in richly embroidered tunics, plus the images of four saints: Sebastian, Blas, Joseph and the Apostle Santiago (Saint James) mounted on a beautiful white horse. Then the saints enter the Cathedral to receive homage, time after which representatives and authorities from various communities of Cuzco meet in the main square to discuss local affairs. Finally, the delegations return to the churches amidst hymns and prayers. Participate all the towns and Cuzco. Is the most important religious feast, in which all the saints and virgins images are taken from the churches to visit the image of Christ that is in the Cathedral. The processions, the street decorations, the fervor of the citizens are an indescribable show.
The most important folkloric expression of Cuzco. (more details….)
Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen (Mamacha del Carmen)
July 2nd week (15-16) – Paucartambo
Four hours from Cuzco, in the town of Paucartambo, thousands of devotees hold festivals in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of the mestizo population. The gathering, that raises the curtain on these days of celebrations is held in the main square, where troupes of musicians play their instruments while richly dressed choirs sing in Quechua. The setting gives way to a series of ingenious choreographies that portray events in Peruvian history. For five days, dance companies in various costumes (Doctorcitos, Waca Waca, Sarjas) take to the streets to accompany the Mamacha throughout the entire procession through the main square, the church and the city streets. On the main day, the virgin is borne aloft in a procession to bless those present and scare away demons. The dancers take to the housetops, performing daring gymnastics, showing off their colorful Inca and colonial garb. At the end of the procession, war is waged on the demons, from which the faithful emerge in triumph. Finally, the gathering ends up in the cemetery to render homage to the souls of the dead.
July 25th – 29th – Province of La Convencion, District of Santa Ana
This is the anniversary celebration of the Province of La Convencion whose capital is Quillabamba. Every year, a Coffee Queen or “Miss Quillabamba” is chosen. There are also cockfight tournaments, motocross competitions, and the Cocla Fair, which features a music fest with national and international artists.
“Pachamama Raymi” (Earth Mother Day)
On this day, the following festivals takes place: Pachamamaraymi in the District of Ccatca, Wataqallariy in the District of Maras, and Kinturaymi in Huasao in the District of Oropesa. This is an Andean ritual that worships and gives tribute to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) in a special ceremony called “payment to the earth” with offerings of coca leaves, chicha de jora, and huayruro seeds (mystical jungle seeds). The rite marks the beginning of the Andean New Year.
Santa Rosa de Lima Patron Saint of the Americas and the Philippines Feast
August 30 (Not workable – Pan-Peruvian)
Saint Rose of Lima (Santa Rosa de Lima) was the name given to a seventeenth-century inhabitant of Lima. Isabel Flores de Oliva felt a great religious vocation and dedicated herself to being a laywoman, without belonging to any religious order in particular. She was to spend her life caring for the sick and her penitence undertaken to resist sin, as well as her good nature earned her fame even while she was alive. Veneration of her figure spread not only in Peru but also to the Philippines. Her shrine, located in downtown Lima, is constantly visited by pilgrims in search of a miracle, especially those seeking to cure an illness. On August 30, pilgrims often cast letters detailing their needs into the wishing well where Saint Rose dropped the key from her cilice. Others visit the hermitage that the saint herself built. Saint Rose is the patron saint of Peru. Although her festival is celebrated across the country, it has a special Quechua emphasis in the town of Santa Rosa de Quives, in the highlands of the Lima.
“Señor de Huanca”
September 14th – Province of Calca, District of San Salvador
The story of the Lord of Huanca began in 1675 when, it is said, Jesus Christ appeared in a cave to Diego Quispe, an Indian. His vivid story inspired one of the best painters of the time to reproduce the picture on a rock. The worship (recognized in 1779) reaches its climax on 14th September, and believers arrive from all over Peru and Bolivia in search of cures for their physical and spiritual afflictions.
All Saints Day and Day of the Dead
November 1-2 (Pan-Peruvian)
Speaking to the souls of the departed On these days, which are dedicated to the memory of the dead, Peruvians tend to attend Mass and then in coastal communities, head to the cemetery, bringing flowers and in the highlands, food to share symbolically with the souls of the dead. The worship of the dead was a common and respected custom during pre-Hispanic times in Peru, and part of that tradition, combined with Christian elements, still lives on today. In the village of La Arena, in Piura, the locals head for the main square in the morning
bringing their children dressed in their Sunday best. Also attending are relatives who have lost a very young child or niece or nephew. When these people meet a child who looks like the deceased, they give him or her small breadrolls, candied sweet potato or coconut and other sweets wrapped in finely-decorated bags, which are called “angels”. At night, the relatives hold a candlelight vigil in the cemetery until dawn on November 2. In Arequipa and Junín the bags of “angels” are replaced by breadrolls in the shape of babies, called t’anta wawas.
“Feria Tikaranticuy” (Tikaranticuy Fair)
Cuzco, ornamental, medical and wild plants fair a colorful show.
“Feria Santuranticuy” (Santuranticuy Fair)
A festival dating back to the colonial period, it now ranks as one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru. It is held every year in Cuzco’s Main Square, where the painters of religious images and artisans offer a wide range of Christmas figurines to go with the Nativity scenes found in homes and chapels across Cuzco.