Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria

Celebrated in Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela

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

The festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria, in many images, is celebrated on February 2 in various Hispanic Catholic countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay.

The celebrations in Peru and Bolivia are centered around 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 Señora de Copacabana and has another festival on August 5.

Normally, Copacabana is a quiet, rural village with fishing and agriculture the mainstays. However, the week before and the day of 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 to pray and to 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.

For photos of the area, click on Bolivia, and Hotel Gloria, Copacabana for a description and map of the city.

In Peru, Puno is known as the Folkloric Capital of Peru and lives up to this reputation in a grand manner during this fiesta which lasts for days. The rituals are centered around the observance of February second, and then a week later with the famed dances.

Peruvian celebrants are not hesitant to take their statue of the Virgen around the streets of Puno in a staged procession.

The mixing of Christian and pagan is very evident here. Mamacha Candelaria, Mamita Canticha, and MamáCandi, 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, as described in Máximo Esplendor Festivo.

The festival has two main phases. The first is described in El Día Principal Y Sus Ritos in which a procession carries the statue of the Virgen around the city, and dancers in lavish costumes from all walks of life join the parade. The dancers, by group, pause 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 Sunday after February second called the Octava. On this day, El Segundo Gran Día: La Octava, costumed groups from the neighborhoods of Puno dance day and night in religious fervor and competitive spirit.

The celebrations in Uruguay center around 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.

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 father in the group.

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

In Venezuela, the Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria is celebrated in Caracas, Mérida and other cities with masses, religious processions and dances.

Enjoy the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria!