SANTURANTIKUY: SALE OF SAINTS.
Every year, on the 24th of December,
there is a very special event happening on the main square of Cusco: it is the “Santurantikuy”
Fair. This fair is a must for local people and whatever the weather, everybody feels
the urge to show on that day. It could be seen as a kind of pilgrimage, as well
as a social meeting… and obviously a chance for last minute Christmas shopping.
The “Santurantikuy” is a unique, lively and festive event during which people also
have the opportunity to reunite with friends and pass on their greetings for
Christmas and New Year.
word “Santurantikuy” is a mix of Quechua (the language of the Incas) and
Castellano (the Spanish of South America) which could be translated as “Sale of
Saints”. The fair is in fact a mix of local and colonial influences.
is a Spanish creation from the colonial time which was aiming at evangelizing
the local indigenous people. For this effect they started selling images of Catholic
Saints on the steps of the Cusco cathedral.
most important Saint of all (since colonial times) is the “Niño Manuelito” (“Baby Jesus”). Baby Jesus is also named
“Emmanuel” in the catholic tradition. “Manuel” is a diminutive of “Emmanuel”
and “Manuelito” is a variation which shows the huge affection the Cusqueños
have for Baby Jesus.
Baby Jesus is usually a beautiful painted
representation made in plaster and it is customary to change his clothes every
year on the 24th of December at midnight. He remains in the nativity
until the 6th of January which is the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day. Then
he’s packed away until the following 24th of December.
In Peru, 80% of the population is Roman Catholic, therefore Christmas is
a huge event especially in Cusco which is way more traditional compared to Lima
for example. Every house sets up a Nativity with a miniature wooden barn and “Baby
Jesus” in his crib of straw or on top of a pillow. “Baby Jesus” is far from
being alone: he’s accompanied by Mary and Joseph of course, but also by a
myriad of saints, animals and miniatures of bridges, houses, windmills, ovens,
wells… The whole scene sometimes represent whole towns and can end up taking
most of a room. There is a big effort to make the scene as real as possible and
it is the whole point of the “Santurantikuy” where the local
artisans have a lot on offer. There is a wide choice in size and design for
Baby Jesus’ new clothes as well.
aspect of the nativity is important, not only the elements, but the whole
scene. Therefore, apart from small wooden barns for Jesus, local people also
buy some type of vegetation (like grass and moss) for the ground and stick
decorated paper on the walls to represent mountains, stars, the moon, the night
provide Cusqueños with the natural details for their Nativity (Jesus’ wooden
barn, the vegetation for the ground…), the “Hierberas” (hierba: grass) come to
town for the Santurantikuy. These sellers come from the high provinces of the
Cusco department and they bring all sort of different “grasses” from their
ecological zone to sell them at a pretty low price.
they are whole families, Quechua speaking and very humble. They come to town
for a couple of days but the majority has nowhere to stay and they spend the
night on the Square. Luckily there are initiatives to give support to these hard
working people and some organizations and institutions offer them hot
chocolate, “panetón” (of Italian origin but the typical Christmas treat in Peru!)
and presents for the kids. For us, it is important to acknowledge these people
since the “Santurantikuy” wouldn’t be possible without them…