Santurantikuy, the Christmas Artisans’ Festival in Cusco
23 December 2019
Every December as Christmas approaches, the people of Cusco decorate their homes for the holidays.
Although Christmas trees have become more common, the most important Christmas display in Cusco’s
homes, and in Peruvian traditions, is the Nativity Scene.
In some homes, Nativity Scenes are huge and very elaborate, with dozens and even hundreds of ceramic figures of the Holy Family, the Three Kings, the Shepards, angels, many other figures, many animals, with miniature background buildings, wells, trees, lights and much more.
These nativities are splendid scenes- they’re fascinating to gaze upon. And they are an impressive show of Andean crafts, and of Peruvians’ devotion to the Baby Jesus and the celebration of his birth.
¿What is Santurantikuy?
Santurantikuy is the place to go to buy all the figurines and other components of Cusco’s Nativity Scene. During December, pre-Santurantikuy Cusco markets are located at several squares around Cusco in districts such a as Santiago (up the hill from downtown) and Plaza Tupac Amaru in the Wanchaq district.
Countless vendors sell every nativity item imaginable, including special natural plants and herbs that make up Nativity Scene foundations. But these are more recent markets, not the main event.
Every year on December 24th, the Santurantikuy Fair takes place at Cusco’s central square, the Plaza de Armas. This, the most important day for Andean artisans, takes place all day, and into the evening.
The fair dates back hundreds of years, from colonial days when Catholic priests would try to convert the indigenous people, who might partly have taken on Catholic practices, but without forgetting their indigenous spirituality. Thus, a syncretism of beliefs is represented in the marvelous handicrafts displayed and up for sale at Cusco’s grand Christmas fair.
The name Santurantikuy derives from both Spanish and Quechua- Santu, or saint, and tikuy or sale. Elements of the Inca’s religion such as the sacred mountains of the Andes, the Apus, and Inti, the sun god, are often symbolized in the crafts sold at the fair.
One of the most characteristic artisanal objects of the Santurantikuy Fair is the “Niño Manuelito”. The creation of Manuelitos goes back a long time in Cusco’s history, to the colonial era. These figurines and sculptures represent the Christ Child, which traditionally would be shown as a white-skinned child with black curls, and a tiny mirror inside the mouth.
Nowadays, Manuelitos have become more diverse, and artists apply their own different interpretations, perhaps with different skin tones, or in different poses or facial expressions.
Each Christmas Eve, thousands of people attend Santurantikuy, and walk about slowly browsing and admiring each artisan’s creations. And there are hundreds of expert artisans presenting their crafts.
Artisans and crafts
They offer everything from intricately decorated ceramic figures, wood sculptures, miniatures, wax figures, bas-relief, silver and and filigree, craftwork in stone and leather, paintings in the colonial Cusqueña School style, decorations in dry flowers, and much more. It really takes the entire day to see all of it, and the fair is a boon to Cusco’s economy.
Cusqueños apply a critical eye in reviewing and comparing each year’s Santurantikuy craftwork, and buying only the best and most unique items. Cusco’s families collect hundreds of ceramic Nativity figurines and other items over many years, so Nativity Scenes often include components that go back decades, inherited from the family elders.
Cusco’s most famous artisan families present their artwork at Santurantikuy. Some of those artists are renowned worldwide, such as the Mendivil family, with their long-necked statues, and the Merida and Lave families, also creators of very fine crafts. Visitors with larger budgets might take home with them some of those works, but there are plenty of beautiful handicrafts and other items to buy at very affordable prices.
If you are visiting Cusco during the Christmas holidays, lucky you, you won’t be able to miss Santurantikuy. If you’re not here this week, please do plan for next year- come and spend a magical Christmas holiday in Cusco. Please contact us at andeanlodges.com to find out about how to plan a great trip to Cusco and about our traditional celebrations and many cultural wonders.