Every year, Carnival (or Carnaval), the Catholic holiday that begins the week leading up to Lent (Quaresma), is celebrated around the world, usually in February.
Due to strong Catholic influence in South America, Carnival is a widespread celebration, with popular festivities taking place in every major city in each country.
In Peru, Cusco hosts one of the largest and most popular Carnival celebrations. During the two weeks before Carnival, two important celebrations take place – the compadres day followed by the comadres feast.
The Compadres Day
It’s traditional for the Cusco Carnival to begin with a celebration of all compadres, the Spanish term for godfathers.
This celebrates all men who help raise children by carrying out activities and maintaining social relationships that sustain extended families.
During the compadres celebration, men have their faces painted, drink frutillada (a drink of chicha blended with strawberries) and eat the symbolic puchero stew.
Starting in the afternoon, the various city neighborhoods join in the celebrations. In the San Blas and San Cristóbal neighborhoods, a jubilant parranda or street party takes place.
Each year the neighbors raise up a yunza tree around which everyone dances to the rhythm of Cusco’s carnival music, performed by local musicians.
For local Cusqueños, there’s nothing better than drinking chicha (an Andean fermented maize drink) and sharing a meal with their neighbors. Despite unpredictable weather this time of year, rain never puts a damper on the celebrations.
During these festivities it’s local custom to hang a compadre doll in a public space, such as on street lights, at markets, entrances to stores etc.
These rag dolls are sometimes dressed in modern style, but in some cases wear traditional indigenous clothing.
The dolls are decorated with balloons and colorful ornaments, and carry signs saying ‘’Happy Compadres Day’’, with the name and a dedication to the honored compadre.
The Comadres Day
In the week before Carnival, the day of all comadres (Spanish for godmothers) is celebrated. The day recognizes the important work of women in helping raise children as members of a larger family.
The comadre plays a very honored and distinguished role in local family life, tradition and folklore.
As the day begins, both comadres and compadres go to mass accompanied by local musicians and dancers. As they exit the mass, they’re received by a barrage of firecrackers that announce the beginning of the party.
It’s at this time that everyone enjoys a delicious traditional drink – the ponche de habas, a hot punch made of ground toasted lima beans mixed with cañazo (distilled sugarcane liquor), which relieves the morning cold.
Community and Local Cuisine
Local authorities sponsor the compadres and comadres float contest, in which the winners participate in the big parade which takes place at Cusco’s main square.
In fact, there are two other big float and dance parades in the region- one in the Sacred Valleyof the Incasand another in the Southern Valley. Also, food fairs are held at Cusco’s many plazas during Carnival.
Of all the dishes served, the most traditional is puchero (t’impuin Quechua), which is made up of two dishes served separately, but eaten together.
The first part consists of fresh cabbage, rehydrated dried potatoes (chuño), chickpeas and rice. The second part is boiled sweet potato, peaches, pears and cassava (yucca).
Travelers looking for a lighter dish to savor should certainly try kapchi de setas, a wild mushroom stew served with rice and stuffed peppers.
Carnival season in the Andes is properly celebrated throughout two full days of activities and joyous festivities.
It marks the beginning of a season in which families and local communities rejoice and enjoy each other’s friendship and support.
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Operation team made up of community members trained as guides, kitchen staff, housekeeping, guardianship and maintenance.