UNESCO has named another one of Peru’s unique traditions as a piece of the country’s intangible cultural heritage. Held every year in February, “Puno’s Feast Day of the Virgin of Candlemas” (La fiesta de la virgen de la candelaria) is everything you would expect from a Peruvian celebration – dancing, colorful costumes, music, food, and of course, alcohol. The only difference is this is the biggest event of the year, likened to “Carnival in Rio de Janeiro” in Brazil and Carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia. In fact, the Candelaria festival held in Puno is the third largest festival in South America, in terms of the number of people involved and the number of organized events. Every year, the festivities includes tens of thousands of dancers in vibrant costumes and 5,000 musicians who reenact hundreds of traditional dances. Preparations for the festival are extensive and start almost a year in advance, involving more than 25,000 costume makers, choreographers and sponsors.
(Photo: Chimi Fotos/Flickr)
The history of the festival dates back to the era of the Spanish Viceroy of the 16th century, when many devout Christians emigrated to the region from the Spanish Canary Islands where the veneration of the Virgin of Candlemas (also known as La Morenita due to her dark-skinned representation) first began. She became the patron saint of the entire region spanning most of the southern Andes in Peru and Bolivia. However, in 1781, the Virgin of Candlemas became an icon for perseverance and faith when the Spanish colonial army was able to hold the city of Puno during siege from the rebel indigenous army originally led by of rebel and vigilante Tupac Amaru II. Outnumbered, surrounded, and discouraged, the colonist of Puno brought out the statue of the Virgin of Candlemas and walked in procession throughout the city. After day and night veneration, the rebels retreated, as if in answer to the prayers of the people.
(Photo: Chimi Fotos/Flickr)
Today, the people of Puno continue the tradition of veneration of the Virgin of Candlemas, but it has since been infused with characteristics of Inca celebrations involving elaborate dances, costumes and music. As Catholicism and native culture have meshed throughout the centuries, the concept of the Virgin of Candlemas has morphed into a celebration of life and Mother Earth (known as Pachamama in the ancient Inca culture), and the people of Puno now recognize _Mamacha Candelaria_ as the patron and protector of the city. The highlight of the festival is the Grand Parade where the 5 kilometer stretch of the city from Avenida Lampa to the city’s cemetery becomes a runway for the vibrant display, including celebratory dances in homage to _Mamacha Candelaria_, and an interpretation of the battle between Archangel Michael’s army and the minions of Satan, known as the dance of _La Diablada_.
(Photo: Paula Soler-Moya/Flickr)
Puno’s festivities celebrating the feast day of the city’s patron saint are among 5 other UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage practices unique to the country of Peru. The textile crafts of the Island of Taquile of Lake Titicaca and the original scissor dance known as Danza de las Tijeras have also made the list of Intangible Heritage traditions. In addition to these traditions, Peru also has 11 recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and still 7 sites await recognition. These international acknowledgements are putting Peru on the map as a top travel destination for those seeking an authentic cultural experience unlike any other in the world.
_Kathleen McAfee is a writer and editor for Peru for Less. She fell in love with Peru’s culture, the people, the food, and the way of life and now calls Lima her “home away from home”. Interested in a trip to Peru? Contact “www.peruforless.com”.
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