As in ancient times, it is performed in the main square of Cusco, on the sidewalks where artists spread their blankets with their products, following the custom of traditional Andean fairs.
The Santurantikuy is celebrated every year on 24 December.
Days before Christmas, Cusco’s Main Square is transformed by local artisans, sculptors and religious image makers to show their finest work in this one of a kind Christmas fair that every year summons and enchants hundreds of cusqueños and tourists. Santurantikuy (or Santuranticuy) is way more than the ideal place to find artistic products of high quality and originality and everything you may need to assemble a nativity scene. The Santurantikuy fair is Cusco’s spirit, tradition, culture, art and devotion. Learn more about this magical experience only found in the so called navel of the world, and don’t miss our “6 cusqueño’s secrets” to enjoy the most of it.
“For me, as for all of Cusco’s people, Christmas is Santurantikuy”
Jorge Flores Ochoa (anthropologist)
Comfortable shoes: The fun in Santirantikuy is to see every single stand in the main square. That means you’ll walk a lot, so wear your favorite sneakers and enjoy the morning!
Be ready for the rain: By the end of December, rainy days become more and more frequent. There are high chances for it to rain during Santurantikuy, so take a raincoat with you because with or without rain the fair won’t stop. It’s not a good idea to take an umbrella, remember there’s going to be lots of people and you don’t want to hurt any of them.
Look first: Santurantikuy will leave you astonished. Be careful with getting excited and expending all you budget on the first 3 stands. The best way to go is looking and exploring a little before you start buying; you may find the same product at a better price or a similar one that you like way better.
Only cash: No, artisans won’t accept dollars. Make sure you have Peruvian soles in cash. The last thing you want to happen is to find something you love and be forced to make a long line in an ATM all the way across the main square to get money to buy it. Possibly once you’re back, the unique piece will be gone.
Meeting place: If you’re attending the fair with friends or in a big group, you will have a hard time trying to stay together. It will be easier and more comfortable if you split in couples to walk around. Even if you don’t want to split up the crowd will force you to do so and you will lose them at some point.
The best you can do is to set a meeting time and place such as “Let’s meet at McDonald’s at 1:00 p.m.”. This way you won’t spend the fair worried and looking for your friends; also, everyone will be able to see and stay longer in the stands that they like the most.
Backpack on your front: Again, Santurantikuy means crowds of people; be careful because, sadly, anyone can be pickpocketed. Keep an eye on your belongings all the time and if you take your backpack on your front, you will be able to see it all the time. Don’t be afraid of using your camera or phone to take pictures, there’s no danger, just be aware of your belongings.
Let's start with some of its incredible history: "Santurantikuy" is a mix of Spanish and Quechua words that mean "Sale of Saints"; like its name, Santurantikuy is a complex process of cultural synthesis: the Andean and the European ones.
The origin of this celebration is unclear; it’s said to have its origins in the XVI century. The oldest reference to Santurantikuy dates from 1834 and it isn’t called by that name. Despite of this mystery, what we know for sure is that Santurantikuy is a Spanish creation from the colonial period, imposed in order to evangelize indigenous Peruvians, because -as its name says- since old times, images of catholic saints were sold on the steps of the Cathedral of Cusco.
Among the saints’ images offered, the star of the fair is Niño Manuelito. This is nothing but the representation of baby Jesus. The name Manuelito is a sweet variation of the Spanish form of “Emmanuel”, as baby Jesus is also known, according to catholic tradition.
Cusco’s people of the time adopted as theirs the concept of Niño Manuelito such a way that they even dressed him as an Inca emperor. This was led by the Jesuits and sparked outrage among the Catholic Church. Today, Niño Manuelito continues to be a representative and beloved figure for cusqueños, especially in Christmas time. At Santurantikuy one can find hundreds of images and sculptures of him in many sizes and designs. Antonio Olave Palomino’s design is the most known and appreciated for its finesse, the first Niño de la Espina (Thorn Child) as he named him, was made 40 years ago. The artist based his design in a Vilcabamba’s oral tradition.
Niño Manuelito is very important for Cusco citizens; they use to decorate the nativity scene with his image and buy new clothes for him each year. The perfect place to find the new outfit for Niño Manuelito is, of course, at Santurantikuy, where you can find clothes in different sizes and many designs, some of these costume designs are traditional and others are funny and original.
You’ve already learned some of the long and complex Santurantikuy’s history and we’ve told you about its main character; now it’s time to talk about all the marvelous pieces you will find in the fair. There’s so much variety and so many unique products to choose from, that you’ll be wishing to have a bigger suitcase to take everything with you!.
Let’s start with traditional products: we’ve told you this before: at Santurantikuy everything needed to assemble the Nativity Scene is displayed and we’re not only talking about beautiful mangers with the figures of San José, Virgin Maria and Niño Manuelito. In Cusco, Nativity Scenes can include whole cities and some may occupy an entire room.
You’ll be able to see and buy miniatures of every kind of animals -even the less expected- in different materials, designs and stiles; miniatures of bridges, houses, and water wells beautifully made. Tiny sculptures are worth to admire, even by those who aren’t really interested in traditional nativity scenes. You could buy them to decorate your home or maybe to surprise a good friend with a miniature of their favorite animal brought all the way from Cusco.
In a nativity scene that aspires to win the annual contest put together by EMUFEC (Municipal Company of Festivities of Cusco) everything matters, not only the characters that decorate it but also the space those characters are located. To add those details, the so called hierberas (herbs sellers) come from the upper provinces of Cusco, to offer different kind of herbs brought from their indigenous communities.
They are entire families, Quechua-speaking and very poor, who stay in the city for a couple of days to offer their products at very low prices. Most of them don’t even have a place to sleep, so they spend the night with their children under the portals of the Main Square, which offers poor shelter from cold and rain. There are several initiatives to offer them some help on these days before Christmas, days that mean sacrifice and lots of hard work for them. Many organizations and institutions offer them hot chocolate, panetón (Peruvian equivalent to Christmas cake) and gifts for the children. There is also a group of volunteers called Caravana Cusco, whom you'll recognize by their colorful clown costumes; these young Cusco citizens give their time and love to the children who come to the city with these families, and they play, sing, and make them mime shows, theater and storytelling throughout the morning. Please, do not overlook these families, they offer their herbs by Santa Catalina’s entry to the square.
Once your craving for culture and tradition is satisfied, you may see another side of the fair, equally amazing and unique. At Santurantikuy you can buy all sort of unique clothes, such as shirts and blouses with Andean and Amazon designs, or contemporary artistic inspiration. Singular hand-woven chullos (Andean traditional beanies) that go out of the ordinary, with ears like llamas, cats and other unidentified magical beings. And speaking of magical beings, you can’t miss the puppets and dolls of funny goblins and fairies, lamps that are miniature circus tents. Don’t forget to look for paintings by renowned artists of Cusco School (if you're lucky you could take some Mendivil’s or Olave’s artwork) or the paintings of young yet unknown artists.
If what you’re looking for is delicate and cute decoration, you should go to the dried flower arrangements section… also look for accessories like headbands with tiny leather flowers; colorful candles may also capture your attention.
Let’s talk about materials. Santurantikuy offers all sort of work in leather, from belts to backpacks, jewelry that seems made for the Inca royalty, pieces in wood so well done that you will surprise yourself looking for a way to take a wardrobe in the plane with you.
If you have children or simply want to take joy to your home, ask for the colorful little wood trucks that can become your kids’ new favorite toy or your own new favorite piece of decoration… maybe it could be a creative book shelf? However you decide to use your new purchases is up to you; Santurantikuy is in charge of offering you very diverse dream pieces of every type and at fair prices.
Now you have an idea of every little thing Santurantikuy has to offer, will you miss it? We know that’s the last thing you’d like to happen, so we’re happy to tell you that, from this December 2015, the fair will be extended for two days: December 23 and 24. Two days to explore everything or to fit it in your trip schedule.
We’ve told you how beautiful this fair is, but you must keep in mind that Santurantikuy summons the whole city and provokes big movement. Don’t let this overwhelm you! To make it easier for you, don't stop to consider 6 tips we've shared in this article.