Christmas Eve the Plaza de Armas, Cuzco’s main square, blossoms with a Christmas market. Under gray skies and sometimes rain, people filled with joy still fill the square to go from stand to stand where Cuzco’s many craftsmen display and sell their wares year after year. Called Santurantikuy, Quechua for “to sell a saint” the market is a Cuzco tradition.
These days all of Cuzco’s monumental core glows like a crêche. The streets are adorned with many lights. The restaurants and businesses that are around the Plaza adorn their balconies with Christmas figures and lights to transmit the Christmas spirit. The municipality has the task of decorating the Main Square with beautiful illuminated allegorical figures. They also put up a large nativity scene and light up the surrounding green spaces with animals made solely of lights against the background of the colonnades illuminated in colored lights. All together the Plaza becomes a magical and vibrant space.
But today, the 24th of december, almost the entire space is occupied by stalls of vendors recreating Cuzco’s first days under the Spaniards when the Haukaypata, the Plaza Mayor, became a market place. Now, only on this day does Cuzco’s mayor give the authorization for the market to spring up again. It’s name, Santurantikuy, refers to a place where one can buy all the figures necessary for creating nativity scenes in Cuzco’s homes in which the the central figure is the “Niño Manueltio,” the Emanuel or Christ Child.
This figure was especially important in those first decades after the Spanish invaded. The Christ Child became a figure strongly identified with Cuzco’s indigenous population. Thus the market has multiple meanings, not only a celebration of Christmas in Cuzco’s homes, but also bringing a reference to the city’s identity as indigenous. One might even suggest that the Christ Child tacitly carries a reference to the figure of a Child that was one of the main images of sun celebrated in Inca Cuzco.
The market begins early in the morning. Already for days people have been arriving in the city with merchandise to sell. At one point or another during the day, most everyone, tourists and locals will visit the Square to appreciate this gigantic exposition and find just the right figures for their own manger scenes. Although people also buy other kinds of handicrafts and even pets, besides everything else necessary for their nativity scenes, such as Joseph, Mary, the Magi, sheep and cattle, the main attraction this day is the “Niño Emanuelito”, the Christ Child, and he is the most sold of all the figures.
In the other plazas throughout the city one also finds this sale of saints. The people who live in the upper parts of the city bring native plants such as moss and grass, pacco pacco, and salvajina, as well as stones and other things which are traditional for adorning the nativity.
At the same time, merchants take advantage of these holy days to sell panetones (sweet, fruited breads), wines brought to Cuzco from many places and champaign, all of which are part of celebrating Christmas Eve. With out any doubt, Santurantikuy has become the largest handicraft fair in the city.
Most importantly, the point of this market and the feast is for people to come together in their families and for their hearts to become sensitive to others in hopes that peace and love will reign in the homes and lives.