Grape Harvest Festival
Grape Harvest Festival
In the second week of March during the height of harvest season, as heavy clusters of succulent grapes reach peak ripeness under the Ica sun, Peru's foremost viticultural region kicks off one of its most important annual festivals. People from all over Peru, and the world, come to the Festival Internacional de la Vendimia de Ica (International Grape Harvest Festival of Ica) to celebrate Ica's rich bounty of grapes and, not least, to sample the world's best piscos (brandy distilled from white muscat grapes) and Peru's finest wines and cachinas.
One of the festival's main events is the beauty pageant, which involves the traditional treading of the grapes by the beauty queen and her hand-maidens. Other activities include a grand carriage parade, musical performances, Marinera dance competitions, agricultural and craft fairs, Peruvian Paso horse shows, sports events, a traditional yunza dance and cockfights. The local bodegas play host to many such events and at the neighborhood block parties that liven up each night of the festival people dance the Afro-Peruvian rhythms of the festejo. Traditional gastronomical delights such as tejas, local sweets made of pecans or candied fruits filled with manjar blanco and coated in a sugar glaze, are another indispensable part of the festivities.« less
Each year during the winter solstice the Incas gathered in their capital city of Cuzco to perform a religious ceremony in honor of the sun god Inti. They called this event Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) accordingly, and the historian El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega tells us it was the most important of the empire's four Cuzco-based ceremonies. The time of the winter solstice is when the sun is farthest from the earth, and this ritual was performed as a means of coaxing Inti to come closer, for they feared that if he did not return their crops would fail and famine would ensue. In preparation for the ceremony the people fasted for three days, denied themselves physical pleasures and lit no fires. The people brought gifts to the emperor (the "Inca"), who reciprocated by treating everyone to a sumptuous banquet of meat, corn bread, chicha and coca tea. During the nine days of festivities people overindulged in food and drink, dressed in their finest clothes and participated in dances and processions. For the Incas, Inti Raymi also marked the beginning of a new year, and they sacrificed llamas during the ceremony in order to guarantee that the coming growing season would be a fruitful one.
The last of the Inti Raymi celebrations to be presided over by the Inca emperor himself took place in 1535, for thereafter the Spanish conquistadors and the Catholic Church tried to put an end to the pagan festivities. The ceremony was officially banned in 1572 by Viceroy Toledo, at which point it went underground until 1944 when a theatrical performance of it was put on to revive the tradition. The festival has been celebrated ever since, and to such effect that it is now South America's second-largest. Hundreds of thousands of international tourists and Peruvians travel to Cuzco each year for the weeklong celebrations beginning on June 24.
Present-day festivities include street fairs, daytime exhibitions and dancing, as well as live evening concerts by some of Peru's best musical groups in the main square. The main event is the all-day ceremonial presentation on June 24, which is performed by ornately costumed actors chosen to represent historical characters. Especially coveted are the roles of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, Inti's son and daughter who became the first Inca emperor and his wife. The ceremony commences with an invocation by Manco Cápac at the Coricancha (Temple of the Sun), who is then carried on a golden throne to the fortress of Sacsayhuamán overlooking the city. Manco Cápac then takes his place on the fortress' sacred altar where he and others give speeches and a mock llama sacrifice is performed. At sundown, piles of straw are set on fire and celebrants dance circles around them before beginning the final procession back to Cuzco.
When planning a trip to Cuzco during Inti Raymi, it is important to make hotel reservations well in advance. You may also wish to reserve a seat at Sacsayhuamán during the ceremony; alternatively, chairs are rented from booths around the main square.« less
Lord of Miracles
Lord of Miracles
The story of one of the largest religious processions in the Americas begins with an anonymous black slave who was inspired to paint an image of Christ on the cross. Brought to Peru from Angola in colonial times, he created the mural on the rough adobe wall of a shed in Pachacamilla near Lima. In 1655 an earthquake destroyed the shed but the painting amazingly survived unscathed. In 1670 a prominent local parishioner by the name of Don Antonio de León, who had a malignant brain tumor and had sought relief from doctors to no avail, turned to the image for divine aid and he was miraculously cured.
When word reached church authorities that groups of faithful were meeting to venerate the image, however, the gatherings were prohibited and orders were issued to efface the mural. Nevertheless, each of the three men who were sent, in succession, to obliterate the image were overwhelmed by an inexplicable force that prevented them from carrying out the job and the mural remained intact. The local people were so vocal in their demands that the image be left alone that the authorities finally yielded to their requests and decreed that a provisional chapel be built to house it.
In 1687 another violent earthquake shook the city, but the wall holding the mural remained standing and thereafter a copy of the image was created to be carried in procession through the streets. After Lima suffered its worst earthquake to date on October 28, 1746, it was decided that the mural's main procession and festivities should take place on that date each year going forward.
Now known as the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles), the "Black Christ" or "Christ of Pachacamilla", this centuries-old mural has the largest following of devotees of any image in the city of Lima. As the image is carried in procession through the city center it is accompanied by tens of thousands of believers clad in purple tunics singing hymns and praying. Processions are held on a few separate occasions during the month of October but the most important of these takes place on the 28th. The "purple month", as they call it, is also a time for indulging in a special treat: the turrón, a sweet anise-flavored nougat. Lima's Plaza de Acho bullring gears up for the start of the bullfighting season around this time, as well.« less
National Marinera Competition
National Marinera Competition
Each year in January the city of Trujillo erupts with excitement and regional pride upon the commencement of one of its most important festive occasions: the National Marinera Competition. A captivatingly elegant dance of coquettish twirls and graceful flourishes of handkerchiefs, the Marinera is one of Peru's best-loved traditional dances. It is a couples dance inspired by the ritual of courtship and rooted in the country's diverse cultural traditions. The Marinera evokes the African and indigenous rhythms of dances such as the zamacueca, as well as the graceful swirling choreography of Spanish flamenco dance. Its name pays homage to the heroic Peruvian marines who fought against Chile in the War of the Pacific.
Some 250 couples compete each year, from young children to adults, and the top performers in each age category are rewarded with colored handkerchiefs and cash prizes. The skilled dancers performing vivacious moves and graceful twirls around the coliseum in their beautiful costumes are quite a sight to behold. Accompanying the dance competition are events such as a beauty pageant, shows featuring the Peruvian Paso horse, bullfights and cockfights.« less
At one of the biggest festivals put on by an indigenous nation in the Americas, Jesus Christ shares center stage with ancestral mountain spirits in a fantastical display of religious syncretism. Each year in late May or early June, on the full moon prior to Corpus Christi, over 10,000 pilgrims embark on a journey to Cusco's Sinakara Valley to the Christian shrine erected to the Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i (Lord of Star Snow). Most of the pilgrims are either Quechua agriculturists from the Paucartambo area or Aymara pastoralists from the Quispicanchis area, with a smattering of middle-class Peruvians and foreign tourists thrown into the mix. Both the Quechua and Aymara groups bring large troupes of costumed dancers and musicians who dress in distinct styles representing ch'unchus (indigenous Amazonian people), qollas (Aymara people of the altiplano), ukukus (bearlike tricksters) and machulas (original legendary inhabitants of the Andes), respectively. Everyone congregates around the shrine for a series of processions and dances before the festivities reach their climax with the trek of the ukukus to the glaciers of Mount Colquepunku. The glacial ice is believed to be infused with the healing powers of the apu or mountain god, so the ukukus harvest huge chunks of it and carry them down on their backs to perform a symbolic irrigation of their fields with the holy water.
Legend has it that a mountain deity once appeared to local peasants in the form of a blonde, fair-skinned boy in the Sinakara Valley before the arrival of the Spanish, but the current-day festival also has its roots in a more recent miraculous occurrence. In 1780 an indigenous peasant boy, Mariano Mayta, is said to have befriended a mestizo boy named Manuel on the snowy slopes of the mountain as he was out grazing his father's flock of animals. After it was discovered that Manuel was dressed in cloth used only by bishops, church authorities sought the boy out and found him glowing with a heavenly light. Upon touching him, Manuel turned into a tayanka bush with the image of Christ hanging from it and Mariano was so alarmed at the thought they had harmed his friend that he died on the spot. Marianito was buried beneath the rock where Manuel had last appeared, and when the news spread great numbers of devotees journeyed to the place to light candles by it. Thereafter a crucified Christ was painted on the rock, the image became known as the Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i and the present-day shrine was built around it.« less
San Juan Festival
San Juan Festival
Water is the lifeblood of the Peruvian Amazon, running through its river veins and sustaining the life of the forest and all who inhabit it. For this reason, San Juan or Saint John the Baptist, known for the purification ritual of water baptism he performed, holds special significance for rainforest people. He is the patron saint of the Peruvian jungle, and each year on his feast day of June 24 spirited festivals are held in his honor in towns throughout the region.
The people of Iquitos, the largest city of the Peruvian Amazon, embrace the festival of San Juan as a time of unity, camaraderie and jubilation when music, dancing, traditional food and local hospitality are in abundant supply. The celebrations can span up to two weeks, with the focal date of June 24 featuring a mass, religious procession and umisha ceremony that involves adorning a tree with gifts, dancing around it and chopping it down. It is believed that the river waters are blessed at this time, so young and old gather at rivers to take cleansing baths and spend the day with their families on the riverbanks sharing traditional food and alcoholic beverages. Everyone prepares and eats juanes, the festival's characteristic dish named after San Juan himself, which consists of rice, chicken, egg and olives wrapped in a bijao leaf and boiled. The city hosts dance competitions featuring indigenous troupes, rock concerts and fairs and people dance the night away at discos, bars, clubs and street parties.
In the highlands people also celebrate the festival of San Juan, but here it's his role as a pastor of souls that's important and they use the day to count, brand and sometimes pray over their llamas, sheep and other livestock. In Cuzco the peasant farmers now hold this event on June 25 due to a conflict with Inti Raymi festivities.« less
Virgen de Chapi Festival
Virgen de Chapi Festival
Each year on May 1 thousands of devotees of the Virgen de Chapi (Virgin of Chapi) set out on a 28-mile journey from the city of Arequipa to the Virgin's isolated desert sanctuary. Also known as the Virgin of Purification or the Virgin of Candelaria of Chapi, she is the patron saint of Arequipa and one of the most widely venerated religious icons of southern Peru.
The Virgen de Chapi didn't always have a following in the thousands, however, nor was she originally known by her present name. The story goes that in 1790 Juan de Dios José Tamayo, the parish priest of Pocsi, was transporting the small image of the Virgin from one place to another and suddenly, in the middle of the desert, it miraculously became so heavy it couldn't be budged. The group of people accompanying the image heard it utter the words "¡Chaypi, chaypi!" while others heard "¡Chajchay llallápi!" or "¡Chaj llallápi!", all of which mean roughly "Right here!" in the indigenous languages Quechua and Aymara. The Virgin's words were construed to mean that it was her will to remain on that spot, so a sanctuary was built in her honor in that place and she's been known as the Virgen de Chapi ("chaypi") ever since.
Today, faithful Catholics make the 15-hour overnight pilgrimage on foot, gathering stones along the way to place on the cairns at Tres Cruces, Alto de Hornilla and Siete Toldos. These mounds of stones, or apachetas, are symbolic of the sins and weariness that the pilgrims cast off and leave behind them. At the conclusion of the journey the Virgin is led in a procession over flower petal carpets and that evening everyone celebrates with fireworks, wine and dancing.« less
Virgen de la Candelaria Festival
Virgen de la Candelaria Festival
For eighteen days in early February the highland city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca does justice to its reputation as the Folkloric Capital of the Americas. Each year in celebration of the feast day of the city's patron saint, the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of Candelaria), Puno puts on such a grand display of music and dance that it's known all over Peru as the country's most spectacular festival. Masses, fireworks, street parties, banquets and brass bands are all a part of this huge two-part fiesta that counts among its participants over 200 dancing and musical groups.
The celebrations are centered around February 2, when the Virgin is paraded through the streets in the midst of ornately costumed dancers performing the diablada or "dance of the demons". The diablada, which symbolizes the battle between good and evil, is said to have been conceived by a group of miners who got trapped in a mine shaft and committed their lives to the Virgin. The colorful dancers wear freakishly grotesque masks and dance to the tune of zampoñas (panpipes) as they make offerings to Pachamama, goddess of the earth. Following February 2 the dancing continues day and night with people of all ages joining in to express their devotion and gratitude to the Virgin for her blessings.
Virgen del Carmen Festival
Virgen del Carmen Festival
A lively and colorful blend of pre-Columbian traditions and Catholicism, the Virgen del Carmen Festival is celebrated in a number of towns and cities throughout Peru. On July 16th a sacred image of the virgin is paraded through the streets accompanied by exuberant costumed dancers whose choreographed movements represent the battle between the forces of good and evil.
Peru's most famous Virgen del Carmen Festival is held in the Andean town of Paucartambo in the Cusco region. It features regional dance groups accompanied by musicians who act out historical events and folklore against a picturesque backdrop of red-roofed white colonial buildings. The three- to four-day frenzy of bizarrely masked and costumed dancers gives way to an interlude of somber reverence with the procession of the virgin, who represents the goddess Pachamama and Christian faith in equal share.
In the coastal towns of El Guayabo and El Carmen in the Ica region the festival is celebrated on December 27th under the name La Peoncita (little peon) for the teenagers who perform dances known as los negritos and las pallitas. In the Cajamarca region of the northern sierra, the town of Celendín celebrates with endless music, dance and bullfights. Huancabamba, Chavín, Huarmey and Lircay are among the other towns that celebrate the Virgen del Carmen Festival.
Devotion to the Virgen del Carmen (known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in English) dates back to the foundation of a temple to the Virgin Mary on Mount Carmel in Israel by devote men who received a vision of Mary in a cloud. The Carmelite Order was subsequently founded and introduced to Europe where, on July 16, 1251, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Saint Simon Stock and given him the brown scapular that has come to symbolize the order.« less
Yawar Fiesta or Blood Fest is an apt name for the symbolic bullfight that takes place every year between a bull and a condor in the Andean village of Ccollurqui. The bull and the condor represent the Spanish invaders and the original inhabitants of the Andes, respectively, in this ritualistic tradition that dates back to the time of the conquest. Celebrations are centered around Peruvian Independence Day, July 28, in this small town of Apurímac's Cotabambas province an eight hours' drive from the city of Abancay.