Celebrated on December 24 is one of Cusco’s most colourful festivals, Santuranticuy or “The sale of saints”. The practice was begun by the Bethlemite order of Franciscan Friars at the time of the Peruvian Viceroyalty (16th Century) and has now become one of the most exuberant of the many festivals celebrated in the former Inka capital. Coming from nearby villages in the days leading up to Dec 24, artisans and vendors set up stalls in Cusco’s main square, the Plaza de Armas. The wares on offer include a vast selection of Nativity scenes, figurines of Catholic saints and altars on which to position them. Locals wander the stalls looking for just the right addition for their home.
The patron of the festival is Niño Manuelito, the Andean baby Jesus, represented with white skin and black hair, dressed in elaborately decorated costume.
Nativity scenes are set up in the family home with Mary, Joseph and Biblical animals surrounding an empty crib. In the evening, families gather at home to eat and drink until midnight when festivities culminate in the placement of the figure of baby Jesus in the crib. Thereafter, prayers are made, gifts are exchanged and fireworks are set off all over Cusco. Standing in the Plaza de Armas is a wonderful place to see the colourful burst of light coming from villages in the surrounding hills.
A few days later, on New Year’s Eve, vast crowds of locals and tourists gather in the Plaza de Armas to enjoy the festive atmosphere. Children and teenagers let off firecrackers and at the midnight the municipality puts on a massive display of fireworks over the plaza.
Christmas time brings the magic of a beautiful fair on the main square or Plaza de Armas. Many people from the mountains come to sell images of the baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, Joseph and the three kings (all made by them), they also sell images of sheppers animals, etc. The last few years the number of sellers and the variety of products have increased (clothes, ceramics, souvenirs etc).
Once Catholicism was established in Peru, the fiesta “Santuranticuy” began to be celebrated in the Main Square of every town or community. The origin of the name is quechua meaning: Santu (Saint) y Ticuy (sale), Sale of Saints.
The “Santuranticuy” is still celebrated as a popular fiesta. This day, artisans build a provisional market to show the diversity of their art that is based on the Christmas celebrations.
Once the fair is over, you must taste pork crackling, corn with cheese or “picarones” (Peruvian dessert), along with sparkling “Chicha de jora” (fermented corn) or hot punch.
It’s Christmas time in Peru and for all those travelers and tourists, Cusco is a great place to spend the Christmas and new Years Eve. The beautiful old inca town , maintaining all it’s traditions and many habits and costums of the Quechua people, is at the same time a small cosmopolitan travelers hub with a good infrastructure of cafes, bars, restaurnants, travel agencies and souvenir shops.
These days Cusco is bright and busy, full of small Christmas markets. People are buying Peruvian gifts, textiles, incense, candles, ceramics and other handicrafts and of course also sweets, breads, cake, food and clothes.
Christmas in Cusco is characterized by the birth of Jesus and you can see this in the many ‘nacimientos’ in the diffirent churches and other places. A “nacimiento” is a constructions if a Nativity scene with Jesus, Mary, the deciphels and some animals, mostly made out of ceramcis. Many people have those nacimientos in their living rooms at home, and there is a big one at the Plaza de Armas.
There are also different parties and festivities in and around the Plaza de Armas in Cusco most of them with music and dance.
Another of the typical Cusco traditions are the chocolatadas: many institutions organize Christmas events for the less fortunate: they invite people of the local communities or some specific neighborhoods in Cusco a cup of hot chocolate, and mostly (cheap) toys are given to the kids. If you go to the market area in Cusco the days before Christmas you might be able to see a chocolatada.
On December 24 you can visit the famous “Santuranticuy” Christmas market at the Plaza de Armas. Andean people from the surrounding villages come to Cusco to sell their handicrafts. Santuranticuy means: ” the selling of the saints “ and this fair has been organized in Cusco for more than 500 years now. This market is a must go for travelers in Cusco. Starts early in the morning and ends when everyone goes home to celebrate Christmas Eve. After dinner, at midnights, Peruvians go to mass an there will be fireworks all over Cusco.