A market thrives in Cusco’s main square today, its Plaza de Armas. It is Christmas Eve and people look for that last camel, a new Baby Jesus, or even moss, all for their crèche.
Nacimientos, as they are called meaning birth scenes, are important in the life of Cusqueños. The market today shows those values. It is called santurantikuy, or to-buy-saints. In the market you will find everything needed for your Christ Child, here called Manuelito, as well as other images, incense, and handicrafts galore, and the miniatures needed to let your desires meet a future of having what you want.
It is more, however. The act of exchange, of buying, is itself important. It is related to so many exchanges that make up life in Cusco and which are celebrated. As a result, the market itself is a sacred place it is not a material preamble to the holy night of Christ’s birth. It, too, is holy.
Through buying, people obtain what they need to live and, in this case, to engage with the Boy Jesus. The transactions of seeing and wanting, lifting and looking, speaking with the vendor, the casera or casero who are so important in the life of Cusco, as well as finally giving money and taking your purchase home are all key.
It is not just the buying, as in capitalism perhaps. It is the desire–the building a relationship with someone and through that obtaining what you need–with the momentary giving of money as in other moments you might give or receive a drink of chicha or beer. The money just actualizes what is already built into the relationship you have made.
Santurantikuy is one of the great celebrations of Cusco. As the day goes on, rain or shine, the plaza will fill with people. It will seem that almost everyone from the city has made their way there. They will look, roam through, and often buy. They will also probably eat, especially the anticuchos grilling on one corner of the plaza. The scent of these skewers of meat and their oil based, seasoned baste fills the air and opens appetite, not unlike the desire that brings people here in the first place: to be, to love, to be part of, and to have relationship with each other and with the Divine. It is Christmas and this is it spirit.