Santurantikuy: The Colorful Christmas Festival of Cusco
Nestled in the Andes mountains of Peru, the city of Cusco comes alive during the annual festival of Santurantikuy — a celebration of Christmas steeped in rich tradition, culture, and vibrant festivities. Dating back to the Spanish colonial period, Santurantikuy has evolved into a beloved annual event that showcases the dynamic culture and unique history of Cusco.
The term «Santurantikuy» translates into Spanish as «buy me a little saint.» Recognized as a national cultural heritage, this traditional fair stands as one of the most representative cultural expressions of Catholicism in the Andean region of Peru.
This year, the traditional Christmas market will take place, as usual, at the main square of the city on the 23rd and 24th of December. At the heart of the festival is the craft market, where artisans from different parts of Cusco and other regions of the country proudly display their handmade figurines and nativity scenes. Crafted with traditional techniques passed down through generations, renowned artisans and new artists present Christmas works using various materials, including ceramics, silver, tinwork, and imagery. The market is a riot of color and activity, with visitors perusing the stalls and bargaining for the best prices.
The central character of the fair is Niño Manuelito, none other than the Infant Jesus. The name Manuelito comes from a tender variation of «Emmanuel,» as the infant Jesus is also known according to Catholic tradition. In Peru, he came to be known in Spanish as Manuel. The Cusqueños of the time adopted the concept of the Infant Manuelito as their own, dressing him up as an Inca king, a practice that originated with the Jesuits and sparked indignation in the Catholic Church. Today, the Infant Manuelito continues to be a beloved figure for the people of Cusco, especially at Christmas time. In the Santurantikuy, you can find hundreds of images and sculptures of the Infant Manuelito, in different sizes and designs.
The origin of the Santurantikuy festival can be traced back to colonial times when indigenous people began crafting religious sculptures and paintings. They created small figurines, or «saints,» for the Christmas creche — a practice that continues to this day. The festival is believed to have been a way for indigenous people to harmonize their traditions with the colonial Catholic practices introduced at the time. Over the years, the festival has grown and evolved into the vibrant celebration it is today, seamlessly blending indigenous culture, Catholicism, and Peruvian heritage into a unique and beloved tradition.
Here are some tips to fully enjoy Santurantikuy:
- Arrive early: The festival can get crowded, so arriving early ensures a good spot to watch parades and enjoy the market.
- Bring cash: Most vendors at the market accept cash only.
- Try some traditional Peruvian food.
- Respect local customs: Santurantikuy is a cultural celebration, so be mindful and respectful of local traditions and customs.