Holy week festivities in Cusco

In keeping with the Andean tradition of vibrant, colorful celebrations to mark religious occasions, Cusco unveils a whole host of processions and specialties in the week leading up to Easter Sunday.
Every day last week there was a parade complete with singing choirs of children and ornately sculpted religious figures on floats covered in floral arrangements to be seen. There was also a refreshing lack of cartoon bunnies, plastic eggs, and jelly beans…holy week here really is just about paying homage to the region’s Catholic heritage and spending time with family.

Every where I went I also found the wide variety of specialty treats created for the holidays: meringue cookies, delicately shaped sweet breads, and brightly colored cakes. Yep, I tried ’em all, and each one deserves a solid thumbs up, though I did suffer a serious blood sugar rollercoaster ride during my research.

In place of fasting and restrictions on Good Friday Peruvians celebrate with a traditional meal of 12 plates of food commemorating the 12 apostles at the Last Supper. I’m not sure what this indulgence entails in terms of preparations both for cooking and eating in traditional homes- I mean, that’s a serious undertaking right there- but Cusco restaurants have adapted the tradition to single plates that accommodate small portions of 12 different dishes. Personally I stuck with the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday and used it as an excuse to eat an amazing meal of ceviche.

After all the processions and crowded streets of the past week (Holy Week is also a tremendous draw for tourists from across the globe), I was relatively surprised by the mellow atmosphere in the main square on Easter Sunday. Mellow, that is, for Cusco. As I walked back from the market there was a gorgeous procession of traditional dancers surrounding the square; men, women, and small children all decked out in incredible costumes that tell a great deal about the village they’re from and their local traditions. One group of dancers was wearing feather head dresses that must have been several feet across. Their movements caused the feathers to loosen and float in the air like snow. It was amazing to watch.

After taking in a few more of the gourmet treats I was ready for a nap. I returned to my apartment, passing families gathered in the parks, and felt like this is the way all holidays should be: family and tradition in place of commercial promotion. Once again, well done Cusco.