One of the most important Christmas events that you can visit if you Study Spanish in Peru these days, is the Santurantikuy Christmas market in Cusco.
This important fair has been a Cusco Christmas Eve tradition for over 500 years and if you have the opportunity to visit you certainly should. It is hard to miss anyway, as it takes place on the Plaza de Armas from early in the morning on. Santurantikuy begins around 4am on December 24th when the first artisans arrive with their colorful wares to peddle, and it lasts well into the evening of December 24th.
“Santurantikuy” translates to the ‘Selling of the Saints’ in Quechua, the original language of the Peruvians and still spoken by many people in Cusco and other regions of Peru. Religious ceramics dominate the market, and according to the local artisans, they take about 6 months to hand craft perfectly.
This spiritual devotion has been nicely described by a Santurantikuy spokesman: “To create one has to believe, and this faith of the Andean community is fomenting the hope to keep alive traditions, culture and even humanity”.
In Cusco, a city that is deeply rooted in Andean tradition, you can see baby Jesus all year round, and his image is especially adored at Christmastime. The miniature baby Jesus replicas, known affectionately as ‘Manuelitos’, are crafted by the artisans to have varying appearances. Some are made with rosy red cheeks and twinkling eyes. Others have a more Andean look to them, with dark skin and traditional Andean attire, but most all of them share one thing – arms open wide to signify peace and love. To many, el Manuelito is reminiscent of childhood and the serenity of nature.
The Plaza de Armas in Cusco on the day of Santurantikuy becomes a unique mix of calm and chaos. In traditional Peruvian- style, the artisans sell a local sweet and warm drink called ponche, a hot (alcoholic) beverage to keep you warm while shopping around.
You find also many stands with more commercial Christmas gifts on one hand, and the most traditional ones on the other hand, as for example the people living in the surrounding communities that come from their villages to Cusco, to sell the native plants that are used for the Christmas Nativities or nacimientos.
In 2009, the National Culture Institute of Peru declared the Cusco´s Christmas market a National Heritage, because of its exhibition of the Catholic Religion in the Peruvian Andes. Santurantikuy is the most popular art fair in Peru, featuring artisans from Bolivia as well, traveling quite a distance to display their handicrafts. If you are in Cusco during the Christmas season, we invite you to visit the Santurantikuy! Buy a Manuelito or Tayta-Niño, indulge in an artisanal hot chocolate or punch, and best of all experience the magic of an Andean Christmas in Peru.