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Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria in Puno, Peru

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When: February 1-18 (main celebration on February 2), yearly

Where: On the shore of Lake Titicaca in Puno, Peru

Who: 40 thousand dancers, 5 thousand musicians, 25 thousand indirect participants (embroiderers and artisans specializing in masks, boots, bells, etc.) and 34,000 domestic and international tourists.

What: Regarded as one of the three most spectacular festivals in South America (along with Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and Carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia), the Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria in Puno, Peru is a celebration of Peruvian folklore mixed with a religious remembrance of the patron saint of Puno.

Spread over multiple weeks at the beginning of February, the festival is divided into two parts. The first revolves around February 2, the feast day of the Virgen de la Candelaria. On the day before the main feast day, a procession carries a statue of the Virgin through the city and deposits it in the Puno Cathedral. Then, on the day of the main feast, dancers in bright native costumes join in a parade during wich they pause in front of the cathedral to be blessed with holy water. Since it is the height of summer during the festival, it is not uncommon to see these people throwing water from nearby houses to help cool the dancers off.

The second part occurs on the Sunday after February 2. This day (called La Octava) is when the real festivities begin. More costumed dance groups gather in Puno to show off their elaborate costumes, but this time their dance moves are more erratic and competitive. The groups dance all day and night to a great deal of fanfare from locals and tourists alike.

Why: Fiestas devoted to the Virgen de la Candelaria are not specific to Puno (the Catholic legend states that this iteration of the Virgin appeared in the Canary Islands, after all) but the festival in this rural mountain town is one of a kind due to its unique mixing of Christian and pagan elements.

Like most Catholic festivals in South America, there is a strong sense of local culture thrown into the European-based affair. However, in this instance the presence of Peruvian folklore is much stronger than the Catholic iconography. For instance, all of the costumes and dances are based on local Quechua and Aymara myths and customs – deer demons dance around bonfires, people dressed as Jacancho (the god of minerals) make offerings to the earth goddess Pachamama, dancers don ponchos and bowler hats to look like frantically moving gauchos, etc.

The blend of the Catholic religion with local folklore is best seen in the representation of the Virgin herself. Festival goers refer to her as Mamacha Candelaria, Mamita Canticha, or MamáCandi – all Quechua derivations of the Spanish name. Furthermore, as the patron saint of Puno he is associated with myths regarding Lake Titicaca as well as the birth of the Inca empire. This is no ordinary Catholic feast, as you can tell.

It should also be noted that Puno is called the Folkloric Capital of Peru, a well-earned title when examining how much the Pre-Columbian cultures of the region mix with the dominant religion in South America.


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