February has always been a month filled with festivities for the people of Peru. The first two weeks alone are filled with vibrant colors, dancing, and music. People from all over the world flock to Puno to join the celebrations and to celebrate Puno’s patron saint during La Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria, which is the prelude to the Candelaria Festival, one of Peru’s top festivals. The Festivity of Virgen de la Candelaria of Puno was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014 by the UNESCO.
The Festivity of Virgen de la Candelaria includes religious and cultural and festivities that are inspired by Catholic traditions. The festival is associated with the pre-Hispanic agricultural cycles of sowing and harvesting and the mining activities in the region.
The focus of the festival is music and dancing; it is organized by the Regional Federation of Folklore and Culture of Puno. Three regional federations of practitioners collaborate to coordinate the festivity and conserve the traditional principles and skills associated with music, dance, and mask-making. To ensure that the younger generation learns about the traditional aspects of the festivities, they attend rehearsals and craft workshops.
For the first nine days of the festivities, the church is decorated by the organizers. They organize the masses, banquets, and the fireworks display. On February 2nd, the main festival begins with a daybreak mass and followed by an ancient purification ceremony. This public worship act leads into a religious procession where the image of the Virgin is carried aloft along the streets.
The Virgin is accompanied by traditional music and dancing by musicians and dancers who bring the entertainment to the streets throughout the city. This colorful procession also involves priests, altar boys, and the faithful. The mixing of Christian and pagan religions is evident here. Mamacha Candelaria, Mamita Canticha, and MamaCandi are all names for the Virgen of Candelaria, the patron saint of Puno.
The feast of the "Virgen de la Candelaria" opens on the eve of the February 2nd and lasts until the first Sunday after that day. It ends one week after continuing with the celebration of the Carnivals.
Several thousands of dancers and musicians from across the region are attracted to the festival each year to compete in two main contests during the festival. The festival gathers about 200 groups of musicians and dancers to celebrate the Mamacha Candelaria. The main participants are typically the locals from the Puno region who belong to the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups. Reinforcing a sense of cultural pride, many emigrants return to Puno to participate.
The central dance of the festival, Dance of the Demons or "diablada," was allegedly conceived up by a group of miners who were trapped down a mine; in their desperation to escape, they yielded their souls to the Virgen de la Candelaria.
The festivities close with a ceremony honoring the Virgin. There is a parade and farewell masses.