On December 24th each year, Peru’s largest folk art fair, Santurantikuy, hits the main square of Cusco in a tradition dating back to the colonial period. The name is Quechua for Saints’ Sale, which is what it originally was: an art fair providing wise men, holy family, virgins and saints for home nativities. The fair’s most prevalent product was the Niño Manuelito in many manifestations. (The Niño Manuelito is the child Christ, and the most traditional incarnation is that of a young child seated in a wooden chair with a raised foot showing a wound into which buyers insert a thorn which remains in the wound until a wish is granted.)
In recent years the fair has begun to include a much more varied range of products, from metal sculptures to handmade leather purses. Hundreds of artisans descend upon the Plaza de Armas laden with pieces which some begin preparing up to six months in advance- carving wood and stone, painting decorative ceramics, creating original weavings, jewelry and leather-work, and more. They set up their stalls or spread their blankets along the archways and throughout the plazas.
Food and drink vendors hawking grilled anticucho skewers and hot chocolates and hot milk ponches add to the festive atmosphere and let you warm up when the weather cools down in the evening.
Some things to keep in mind:
- In the evening you’ll probably have better bargaining luck as vendors from out of town try to lighten their loads.
- Beware of pickpockets taking advantage of the crowds and distraction.
- The plaza will stay full until the night, so take advantage because by Christmas Day they’ll all have disappeared.
- Cusco’s climate is highly variable, and December is rainy season, so bring your rain poncho, but put on the sunblock anyway because the UV rays at this altitude are strong!
While Celebrating the Holidays in Cusco…
What else should you be sure to do on Christmas Eve in Cusco? Definitely go traditional with some hot chocolate and panetón, the Peruvian version of fruitcake. You can pick up the ingredients for the former and a box of the latter in the provisional markets which will pop up all throughout the streets and plazas. Also, we hope that you’ll join us at Pirwa Colonial Hostel for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner before heading back to the Plaza for the midnight fireworks.