Celebrated in early February each year, the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of Candelaria Feast) is one of the most celebrated cultural events in South America, including the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, and Uruguay. This celebration honors the patron of the city of Puno, Peru and incorporates music, dance, and elaborate costumes. The grand festival begins on February 2 with a colorful parade in which the statue of the patron is paraded through town. The underlying agricultural theme involves a ceremony where masked dancers make their offerings to the goddess Pachamama, hoping for a fruitful harvest.
The celebrations are centered on Lake Titicaca (which borders the counties of Peru and Bolivia) in the town of Puno and village of Copacabana. Both towns conduct parades, complete with colorful costumes and music, and the townspeople gather to drink and celebrate.
Copacabana is usually a quiet, rural village centered around fishing and agriculture. But during the fiesta, new vehicles come from all over the country to be blessed with beer. People gather for days to pray and celebrate in a mixture of Catholic and native religions. It is during this time, the Bolivian celebrants believe the Virgen prefers to stay inside the Basilica erected in her honor. They say that should she be taken outside, a risk of a storm or other calamity may arise.
Over in Puno, however, celebrants don't hesitate to take their statue of the Virgen to the streets in a procession which marks the first stage of the festivities. Dancers in lavish costumes, from all walks of life, join the parade and often pause as a group in front of the cathedral to be blessed with holy water. After this, they are cooled with water thrown from nearby houses. Puno is known as the folkloric capital of Peru and it certainly lives up to its reputation during this fiesta.
The second phase of celebration occurs on the Sunday after Feb. 2, a day called the Octava. On this day, neighborhood groups of men, women, and children dance to honor the Virgen of Candelaria (otherwise known as Mamacha Candelaria, Mamita Canticha, or MamaCandi), whose story is closely linked to Lake Titicaca and the birth of the Inca empire.
Celebrations in Uruguay, Chile, and Venezuela
In Uruguay, Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria takes place at the Iglesia de Punta del Este, a sliver of land only accessible at low tide. It is here that the first Spaniards stepped ashore and celebrated their safe arrival with a Catholic mass.
In Chile, the Virgen de la Candelaria is feted in Copiapo, where she is considered the patron saint of the miners. Year after year, a group calling themselves "chinos" (where each son replaces their father in the group once he passes) carries the statue in the procession. Here, religious dancing takes place during a two-day celebration that brings together local folklore and religion.
In Venezuela, the Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de La Candelaria is celebrated in Caracas, Merida, and other cities, complete with masses, religious processions, and dances.