The Celebration of the Virgen de la Candelaria

April 21, 2020

The festivity of the Virgen de la Candelaria is one of the most artistic, energic, and vibrant manifestations of faith and culture in South America. It has been celebrated since 1960, and it takes place in Peru each February during the days leading up to the Catholic Church’s season of Lent. The festivity is organized by the Regional Federation of Folklore and Culture of Puno in Peru. At the beginning of each year, thousands of people visit Peru, a southern city located near the shores of Lake Titicaca to join the festivity “Fiesta de la Candelaria,” a traditional religious event blend of Catholic and Andean religions.

The Virgin of the Candelaria or Mamita de la Candelaria is the patron saint of the city of Puno. She represents fertility and purity and is also associated with the Incan goddess, Pachamama, or Mother Earth in English. The Fiesta de la Candelaria is also a representation of the hopes and the faith of those who believe in the Virgin. Specifically, those who are faithful to her show their devotion throughout this celebration, as their dances, songs, and costumes are symbolic representations of their beliefs. 

In 2014, the Fiesta de la Candelaria was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) by UNESCO. The ICH program aims to encapsulate aspects of cultural heritage that are not physical manifestations, as intangible cultural heritage, including oral traditions, practices, rituals, and festive events. In this context, the festivity of the Virgen Candelaria displays expressions of Quechuan, Aymaran, and Mestiza cultures through the music, the performances, the rituals, the dancers’ costumes, and the decorations of the festivity. The costumes used in this festivity, for instance, are carefully designed in a process that can take up to six months each. Additionally, the planning and preparation for this celebration begins more than a year in advance. 

Throughout January and February, many distinct traditions of the Fiesta de la Candelaria take place in Puno. Thus, this article provides a brief, vivid description of the certain traditions that took place during the 2020 celebration of the Fiesta de la Candelaria, which had over sixty thousand attendees, including both native Peruvians and tourists (Diario Correo, 2020). 

As a tradition, the Fiesta de la Candelaria started on February 1st with the Sicuris, a folk group of musicians and dancers that climb the hills of Puno city, until they arrive at the famous viewpoint, the Cerrito Huajsapata. Here the group embraces the first rays of the sun, enjoying the first few moments of the celebration.

Credits photo: Guido Serruto Rosello

Also, in the morning, several groups of dancers begin the festivity with religious masses known as misas de alvas. The masses take place in the sanctuary of the Mamita Candelaria, which is in the center of the city. In the afternoon, a procession takes place in which hundreds of devotees accompany a statue of the Virgin and transport her to the city’s main Cathedral. The parade travels to the rhythm of the wind instrument, the siku, which is played by a group of musicians known as Sicuris. In the evening, a celebration known as Visperas takes place, which signals the official start of the festival.

Credits photo: Guido Serruto Rosello

February 2:In the morning, the festivity continues with a Catholic celebration in the Cathedral of Puno that unites hundreds of devotees, including authorities and civilians. After it, the statue of the Virgin is carried throughout the streets of the city by devotees; and during the procession, onlookers present both physical and spiritual blessings upon the Virgin. In the afternoon, the festivity officially begins with a contest of native dances. The Concurso de Danzas Autoctonas is a native dance contest in which hundreds of enthusiastic dancers gather in the city to perform as a symbol of devotion to the Virgin. The dancers perform in colorful artisanal costumes that represent many aspects of their cultures, as they come from different Quechua and Aymara provinces within Puno. The musical genre Danza is a type of ballroom dance. In the case of the Danzas Autoctonas, the Danza is a festive, sequence dance, in which the dancers perform a patterned dance that usually falls in a square. The dance and the music are creolized, as a result of the forced integration of African and European dance rituals. 

Credits photo: Guido Serruto Rosello

February 7:The celebration of the Virgen Candelaria continues; hundreds of band musicians corresponding to each folk group arrive in Puno and show their devotion to the Virgen by playing several rhythms at night. They perform music in the center of the city and, after that, move to the different neighborhoods where the folk groups practice choreographies all night.

February 9:A contest of light suits will take place. The Concurso de Danzas en Traje de Luces takes place in the Stadium Enrique Torres Belon in Puno, where all folk groups compete in well-synchronized dance choreographies, each dancer dresses a detailed, colorful costume and depending on the dance also a mask. Specifically, a traje de luces, or a suit of lights, is the lively costume that traditional bullfighters wear. The folk groups are composed of hundreds of energetic and enthusiastic dancers and band musicians. The dancers are from Puno, other regions of Peru, and other countries that travel to Peru each year to participate in this celebration.

Credits photo: Guido Serruto Rosello

February 10 and 11:The main celebration, La Gran Veneración a la Virgencita de la Candelaria, takes place in the streets of Puno, where participants of all ages are invited to dance. Accompanied by band musicians, the folk groups create a dancing parade that promenades through the city and takes place for more than ten hours. Some traditional dances that are displayed throughout this celebration include the Morenada, Diablada, Sayas, Sicuris, and Waka Wakas, each with its particular choreography, rhythm, and costume. 

To illustrate, the Morenada or Moreno is a folk dance, whose origins are debated. The dance is characterized by rattles and drums where the women dress polleras, or multilayered skirts while men wore a costume that symbolizes a barrel and a silver or black mask (Vis, 2013). According to historians, the Morenada was created after the Spanish colonization of the Incan Empire in the 16th century (Rosoff, 2016). One theory is that this dance came first to Bolivia when African slaves were brought to work in the mines of Potosi, Bolivia. The Spanish word, Moreno, means “dark” and can be related to the masks worn by the male dancers. In a recent publication, Nancy B. Rosoff, a senior curator of the Brooklyn Museum, describes how scholars have found evidence to support this theory. In particular, Rosoff states that “This view has been supported by various scholars who cite as evidence the black masks, the sound of the matracas or noisemakers that they say imitate the rattling of chains that bound the slaves’ legs; and the barrel-shaped wine skirts of the dancers” (Rosoff, 2016). 

Credits photo: Guido Serruto Rosello

To end the celebration, each folk group will gather to celebrate the closure of the Fiesta de la Candelaria in a traditional commemoration called Cacharpary, where new leaders for each folk association will arise and start to plan the celebration of the Virgin for the next year.



About Author(s)

Marilu Nunez Palomino
Marilu Nunez Palomino is a graduate student of Public and International Affairs with a major in International Political Economy at the University of Pittsburgh. She has a Master's Degree in Accounting for the FEA-USP in Brazil. Currently, she is doing research on International Trade and Mental Health in the Americas.
Carley Clontz
Carley is an undergraduate senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Economics, Spanish, French, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies. Through academic and research programs, Carley has traveled to Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. Her articles focus on human rights violations, economic and political developments, and systemic violence.