Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria

One of Most Important Festivals in South America

••• Puno, Peru. Kelly Cheng Travel Photography/Getty Images

The festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria is celebrated every year in the first two weeks of February, with Feb. 2 the most important day, in various Hispanic Catholic countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, and Uruguay. It is one of the most important festival days in South America.

Peru and Bolivia

The celebrations in Peru and Bolivia are centered on Lake Titicaca, in Puno and the small village of Copacabana.

In Bolivia, the Virgen is also known as the Dark Virgin of the Lake and the Patroness of Bolivia. She is revered for a series of miracles, recounted in Nuestra Senora de Copacabana. Normally, Copacabana is a quiet, rural village with fishing and agriculture its main activities. But during the fiesta, the village changes.

There are parades, colorful costumes, music, and a lot of drinking and celebrating. New vehicles are brought in from all over Bolivia to be blessed with beer. People gather for days ahead of the festival to pray and celebrate in a mixture of Catholic and native religions. Bolivian celebrants believe the Virgen prefers to stay inside the Basilica erected in her honor. When taken outside, there is a risk of a storm or other calamity.

Puno is known as the Folkloric Capital of Peru and lives up to its reputation in a grand manner during this fiesta, which lasts for days around Feb.

2. Unlike Bolivians, Peruvian celebrants don't hesitate to take their statue of the Virgen around the streets of Puno in a staged procession.

The mixing of Christian and pagan religions is evident here. Mamacha Candelaria, Mamita Canticha, and MamaCandi are all names for the Virgen of Candelaria, the patron saint of Puno.

She is also associated with Lake Titicaca as the birth of the Inca empire, with the cult of the Earth, Pachamama. Men, women, and children dance in her honor to show their devotion and their thanks for her blessings. The celebration continues as a prelude to Carnival.

The festival has two main phases. The first takes place on Feb. 2, when the statue of the Virgen is carried around the city in a procession, and dancers in lavish costumes from all walks of life join the parade. The dancers pause by a group in front of the cathedral to be blessed with holy water, after which they are cooled with water thrown from nearby houses.

The second phase occurs on the Sunday after Feb. 2, called the Octava. On this day, costumed groups from the neighborhoods of Puno dance day and night in religious fervor and competitive spirit.

Uruguay

The celebrations in Uruguay take place at the Iglesia de Punta del Este, accessible only at low tide, where it is thought the first Spaniards stepped ashore and celebrated their safe arrival with a Mass.

Chile

In Chile, the Virgen de la Candelaria is feted in Copiapo, where she is a patron saint of the miners. Year after year, a group calling themselves Chinos carry the statue in the procession, and son replaces the father in the group.

There are religious dances as well during the two-day celebration, bringing together local folklore and religion.

Venezuela

In Venezuela, the Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria is celebrated in Caracas, Merida and other cities with Masses, religious processions, and dances.