Traditional Holidays in Peru
Because of the many indigenous groups in Peru, the country has over 3000 traditional fiestas that are celebrated each year. Most of these festivities are in honor of a saint (santo patron) but often have very close ties with the indigenous roots of the region. An example is the celebration of the Corpus Christi, which was introduced by the Spanish colonists during their intentions to convert the indigenous populations towards Christianity. Nowadays this is a celebration that shows both Catholic as well as indigenous influences. The fiestas in the smaller villages in rural areas are often directly related to important agricultural events or ancient mythological figures.
Carnival in Peru - February
Carnival is held the last days before the start of lent and traditionally was meant to throw out the rich food and alcohol before feasting for 40 days. Nowadays it means colorful fiestas, water fights, partying and parades. The most popular carnival in Peru is held in Cajamarca.
You might prepare to end up in water balloon fights (sometimes, as being the foreigner you are an extra interesting target). Furthermore, there will be dances and colorful parades that often last until midnight. In many towns there is the tradition to decorate a tree with ribbons, balloons and little prizes in the form of bottles of liquor. Then, in couples and with a machete the tree is being taken down and everyone tries to get the prizes when the tree finally falls down.
Semana Santa - April 13 - 16
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week before Easter Sunday. Celebrated among all catholic countries, the main processions are in Cusco, Arequipa and above all, Ayacucho. The Friday before Palm Sunday is celebrated by a procession in honor of La Virgen de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows). Often, the locals will launch ´sorrows´ to the other ones by throwing little pebbles out of slingshots (foreigners are a popular target). Each day there are more parties, of which the biggest one on the Saturday before Easter Sunday, with night long parties and fireworks. In Ayacucho, the celebrations also include folk-dancing competitions, traditional meals and local music concerts and are therefore a perfect opportunity to experience the local Peruvian Andes culture and food.
Inti Raymi - June 24
Being one of the biggest celebrations in the country, Inti Raymi means ´sun festival´ in the indigenous Quechua language and is celebrated across Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. This celebration holds its roots in the Inca Empire where they held religious ceremonies in honor of the god Inti, the god of the sun and the most honored god of the Inca’s. It was through these celebrations, prayer, and sacrifice that the sun could be convinced to return and therefore could help the crops to grow and generally make the days less cold and therefore people healthier. It is therefore not surprising that this festivity is held close to the 21st of June, the shortest day of the year in terms of the time between sunrise and sunset (in the southern hemisphere). It was also the day of the Inca New Year.
Inti Raymi festival in Cusco
During the Inca Empire, the biggest Inti Raymi celebrations where in Cusco, which is where nowadays you can still find the biggest celebrations as well. This celebration is something you should not miss when you are in Cusco, even though you will be surrounded by quite a lot of other tourists. A bit less focused on the religious side of it, and a bit more on having fun, dancing and food, these total festivities last for nine days, but the most important day is the 24th of June, where the traditional celebrations are repeated in Cusco. Furthermore, there are big festivities at the Ruins of Sacsayhuaman. During the celebration, actors represent the different figures of the Incan royalty, such as the Sun King himself or his wife. For the local people, being chosen to act out this role is the highest honor possible. In the rural villages in the Andes Inti Raymi is still celebrated with lots of music, colorful costumes and food.
Though Corpus Christi is celebrated throughout the entire country, the fiesta is the biggest in Cusco. It is a very colorful and traditional ceremony, attracting many visitors from all over the world. A total of fifteen saints and virgins walk, accompanied by different processions and arrive to the the Cathedral of Cuzco around 11 am. During the entire day (sixty days after Easter Sunday) you can hear the biggest church bell of Peru (the María Angola). The night before, twelve typical dishes are eaten, together with local beer and bread. After seven days, the same saints participate in the processions again as they go back to their places. Here they will be stalled until the next year.
All Saints Day - Todos los Santos - November 1st and 2nd
All Saints day, a traditionally catholic event is meant to remember the passed. Typically, Peruvians will attend the mass. Then, there is a difference in celebration between the coastal and the mountain areas. On the coast, the people will go the the cemeteries and bring flowers whereas in the Andes they will bring food to share with the souls of those passed. This is another example of a festivity in which the traditional ways of worshiping the death from the indigenous communities is combined with the Christian religion.