In any Andean community at any time of the year, you may stumble on a village fiesta. These local events are colorful occasions, always accompanied by music, dance, vivid dress, and large quantities of food and chicha. Coastal festivals can also be lively, especially in Chincha, where the black population stages the Fiesta Negra in February with Afro-Peruvian music and dance.
Nationwide versus local
Major festivals, like the Fiestas Patrias in late July, commemorating Peru’s Independence, are celebrated nationwide. Others are specific to one location, like the celebration of El Señor de los Milagros in Lima, which sees thousands of people following a procession headed by a black figure of Christ on the Cross.
Peru's heady fusion of beliefs
One of the reasons Peru’s festivals are so exciting is that they blend the rites of the Catholic Church with those which go back much farther – to Inca times or the veneration of Pacha Mama, Mother Earth. A good example of this is the Inti Raymi celebration in Cusco. The Festival of the Sun had been a huge event under the Incas, and Catholic leaders, realizing it could not be stamped out, nudged it to June 24, the day of John the Baptist, and everyone was happy.
Pre-Lent Carnival, which was grafted onto pagan celebrations in Europe, is widely celebrated, very noisily, with lots of water-hurling. La Virgen de la Candelaria (Candlemas), in February, is another event where Catholic and pre-Columbian rites mingle, particularly in Puno, where the diablada, a devil dance involving grotesque masks, is the main event.
Lord of the Earthquakes
Celebrated on the Monday of Holy Week, this is a major event in Cusco. Our Lord of the Earthquakes (Nuestro Señor de los Temblores), the image of Christ on the Cross which hangs in the cathedral, is credited with saving the city from destruction during a major earthquake in 1650. The statue is carried through the streets on an ornate silver litter. Red flower petals, symbolizing the blood of Christ, are scattered in its path and thousands of cusqueños join the procession, along with civic leaders, priests, nuns, and military representatives.
When a severe earthquake rocked the city in 1950, the image was set up in the Plaza de Armas, while townspeople begged the Lord to stop the tremors. Like many other festivals, this is a mixture of superstition, genuine religious feeling, and enjoyment of ritual for its own sake, and it is a splendid occasion.