Festivals in Peru and Public Holidays
Peru has a wide diversity of festivals, public holidays and traditions that are the cultural heritage of the country. An endless amount of events and festivals throughout the whole year give color to the daily life of the Peruvian people. Some festivals are national, others are regional or only celebrated in small villages high up in the mountains or deep the jungle. Most Festivals in Peru are linked to the catholic calendar, the ancient mythology or to important agricultural dates in Peru. Typical dances, acts of religious devotion, food, music and drinks are the important elements of each festival in Peru.
Peruvian National Holiday or Traditional Festival
|January 1||New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo)|
|Early February||Virgin of Candelaria or Mamacha Candelaria|
|March/April||Easter Week (Semana Santa)|
|Easter Monday||Lord of the Earthquakes (Señor de los Temblores)|
|May 1||Labor Day (Día del Trabajador)|
|June 24||Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi)|
|July 15-18||The Virgin of Carmen (Mamacha Carmen)|
|July 28/29||Independence Day (Fiestas Patrias)|
|August 30||St. Rose of Lima (Dia de Santa Rosa de Lima)|
|October 8||Battle of Angamos (Combate de Angamos)|
|October 18, 19, 28||Lord of the Miracles (El Señor de los Milagros)|
|November 1, 2||All Saints’ Day (Día de Todos los Santos), Day of the Death (Dia de los Muertos)|
|December 8||Immaculate Conception (Inmaculada Concepción)|
|December 25, 24||Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), Christmas Day (Navidad)|
Carnival - Across Peru
Like all of Latin America, Carnaval (Carnival), held annually throughout February across Peru, is one of the country’s most significant and lively events. The Carnavales in the Peruvian highlands are joyful and cheerful
Celebrations typically revolve around typical dancers dressed in elaborate costumes and masks representing spiritual and religious beings, plus festivities held in the main square of all towns and cities across the country. Plenty of food and drink is prepared, while water balloons become a weapon used between revellers – so you might find you get very wet during this festival!
Another typical ritual held during carnival is yunza. One family plants a tree and hangs gifts from its branches, and all the people are dancing around the yunza; then, the guests begin to chop at the tree with an axe, aiming to bring it down. The couple that gives the final cut before the tree falls is in charge of the organization of the yunza next year.
The Virgin of Candelaria - Mamacha Candelaria, Puno
For the first weeks of February, the highland town of Puno becomes the Folk Capital of the Americas. During the 18 days over which this Peruvian festival is held, 200 groups of musicians and dancers gather to celebrate the Mamacha Candelaria or the Virgin of Candelaria. This festival is celebrated across the continent, although Puno in Peru and Copacabana hosts the liveliest and largest of all across the border in Bolivia.
The celebrations begin when the first procession of devotees arrives at the Santuario de la Virgen la Candelaria and follows with various celebrations of Mass, extensive banquets and firework displays. February 12 is the central date of the celebrations.
It marks the day when the statue of the Virgin is finally led down through the city, followed by a colourful procession of priests and local worshippers and accompanied by troupes of around 2,000 musicians and up to 50,000 dancers.
This traditional Peruvian festival blends Christian and Andean beliefs, and many of the dances demonstrate devotion to the earth goddess Pachamama. The Trajes de Luces, the main dances held in the local stadium, feature various indigenous dance styles, including the Waca Wacas, El Rey Moreno and the Diablada. The latter, also known as the Dance of the Demons, is the festival’s leading dance and supposedly claims origins from when a group of miners trapped down a mine promised their souls to the Virgen de la Candelaria in return for help.
The dancers, blowing zampoña pan-pipes and clad in spectacular costumes and outlandish masks, make their offerings to the earth goddess Pachamama. For their terrifying aspect, the most impressive masks are those of the deer fitted with long twisted horns similar to the Devil, and Jacancho, the god of minerals. During the farewell or cacharpari, the dancers who fill the streets finally head to the cemetery to render homage to the dead.
Señor de los Temblores - The Lord of the Earthquakes, Cusco
Ever since 1,650 - when the faithful people claim that an oil painting of Christ on the Cross held off a devastating earthquake rattling the city of Cuzco, the locals have been rendering homage to the image Taitacha Temblores, aka the Lord of the Earthquakes.
The festivities take place on Easter Monday against the backdrop of Easter Week in the city of Cuzco. This celebration is of particular interest because it allows you to glimpse the fusion of Andean religions and Christianity.
At this celebration, Taitacha Temblores - a black sculpture of Christ - is carried from the cathedral in Cusco, with a procession taking it through the streets like the Inca and his army mummified dead were once carried around the city.
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 Christ a sombre aspect and a dark countenance.
Corpus Christi - Cusco
The traditional festival of Corpus Christi is commemorated across the whole country, but it’s certainly most impressive in Cusco. Corpus Christi is celebrated sixty days after Easter Sunday, so the exact date varies each year.
Before the celebrations begin, twelve typical dishes are prepared and consumed, including cuy (guinea pig), chicha (typical local beer) and bread. The next day, fifteen statues of saints and virgins are carried into the cathedral of Cusco from their parishes surrounding the city and followed by huge crowds of worshippers.
The main procession starts around 11:00am, when the saints are paraded around the Plaza de Armas amid folkloric music and dancing. During the procession, you hear the chimes of the María Angola, the mythical bell of Cusco’s cathedral, which was cast in 1659 and is the largest bell in the country.
Once they’ve been paraded around the square, the procession of saints is then returned to the cathedral, after which representatives of local communities come together to discuss local problems. Finally, on El Octavo, the eighth day of the Corpus Christi festivities, the procession is held once more before the statues are carried back to their parishes, where they remain for the rest of the year. If you have a chance to be in Cusco during this celebration, don’t miss out on joining the crowds in the Plaza de Armas, although you’ll want to get there early to find a good spot.
The Festival of the Sun - Inti Raymi, Cusco
One of the most extensive and most impressive celebrations held in the country, the Inti Raymi festival or Festival of the Sun, has its roots in the Inca tradition of worshipping the Sun God, Inti. It's held annually on the date of the Winter Solstice, on June 24. The central part of the day takes place at the Ruins of Sacsahuaman, beautiful natural scenery 2 km from Cusco.
Thousands of revellers descend on the former Inca capital of Cusco to celebrate the return of the Sun. The ceremony starts earlier the same day at the Koricancha (the Temple of the Sun, in Cusco), followed by more celebrations on the Plaza de Armas (or Huacaypata, as it was called in Inca times).
Around noon, the actors selected to perform the roles formerly played by the Inca and his subjects lead a procession of the thousands of spectators from the Plaza de Armas up to the crest of the hill where Sacsayhuaman lies. Then, in an impressive ceremony that draws heavily on the original Inca festivity, the Inca leads a worship ceremony for Inti, culminating in a llama's very real looking (but completely fake) sacrifice.
The Inti Raymi Festival was organized on June 24, as it is one of the shortest days in the southern hemisphere; possibly the Incas were afraid that the Sun (their Father) would abandon them (his sons).
The Virgin of Carmen - Mamacha Carmen, Paucartambo
Four hours from Cusco, in the town of Paucartambo, thousands of devotees hold festivals in honour of the Virgen of Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of the mestizo population. The festivities take place between July 15 and 18 every year
The gathering is held in the main square of Paucartambo, 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. The dance troupes are masked to represent mythical beings and different cultures from across Peru, who take to the streets to accompany the Mamacha Carmen.
For five days, dance companies in various costumes (Doctorcitos, Waca Waca, Sarjas) dance on the streets to accompany the Mamacha throughout the entire procession through the main square, the church and the city streets. On the primary day of the celebrations, the virgin is borne aloft in a procession to bless those present and scare away demons. Some of the dancers take on the role of demons, taking to the rooftops where they attempt to “tempt” the Mamacha Carmen. At the end of the procession, war is waged on these demons; the events end at the cemetery, where homage is paid to the souls of the dead.
The Lord of the Miracles - El Señor de los Milagros, Lima
Gathering one of the largest processions in the world, the festival of El Señor de los Milagros or the Lord of the Miracles is held in Lima on October 18, 19 and 28, with a procession on each day.
The festival dates back to the 17th-century. A slave from Angola drew on the walls of his hut, the image of Christ. An earthquake struck soon after. All the houses in the village were destroyed, except for the hut of the slave, whose image on the wall was intact.
This event resulted in the formation of a cult, who worshipped this image. Festivities continue these days, with worshippers of the Lord of the Miracles having grown into their thousands.
Now, a replica of the image is carried on a litter on the shoulders of believers on a 24-hour procession across Lima, from Iglesia Las Nazarenas to Iglesia La Merced, with hundreds of thousands of devotees, many dressed in purple, following it in its wake.
In October, to commemorate the Lord of Miracles (Señor de los Milagros), Lima hosts the well-known bullfight season which carries the same name and is held in the centuries-old Plaza de Acho bullring. The season features some prominent bullfighters (toreros) from Spain and Latin America.
Día de los Muertos - All Saints Day, across the country
Although better known as a festival celebrated in Mexico, the Día de los Muertos is when Peruvians celebrate their dead. Many attend Mass, followed by a trip to the cemetery, where flowers and even picnics are shared with their deceased family members. The atmosphere of the day is jovial and reflects a keen desire to venerate the dead – an idea seen throughout the Andean culture.
One of the most interesting places to spend the Día de los Muertos in Peru is La Arena's village, near Piura. Here, families who have lost a young child take candied sweets, doughnuts and other sweet treats called “Angelitos” (“angels”) to hand out to other children from the village. The night of November 1, these families then held a vigil in the cemetery.
Christmas - Navidad, across Peru
Christmas was adopted by the Andean people following the arrival of the Spanish and remained an important national holiday to this day. Homes and churches are decorated with Nativity scenes, which can be bought at the market of Santuranticuy, held every December 24 in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. These Nativity scenes are kept on display until January 6 and La Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the three wise men).
In and around the craft city of Ayacucho, you can also find Nativity scenes carved in local Huamanga stones and carved gourds called "burilados”. In Cusco, Christmas Eve or Noche Buena is the night when people exchange gifts. In addition, families get together to eat holiday food such as turkey or chicken, while they enjoy paneton (panettone) with hot chocolate.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, communities, churches, organisations, and even workplaces often organise "chocolatadas", where they share hot chocolate and small gifts with poor children and families in their community. The lines for chocolates are a distinct feature of Christmas in Cusco.