February Festivities

Watching a parade from our balcony

I was standing on our balcony the other day chatting on the phone with my sister Liz, when we had to pause our conversation until a parade passed by our front door.

“Wow,” exclaimed Liz, “there’s always something fun happening on your street!”

It was the second time in as many weeks that a phone call with Liz was interrupted by a band marching past our house. Because we live on one of the only traditional streets left in the town of Huaraz, it’s not unusual for everyone who’s organizing a parade of any kind to march their group down Jose Olaya Street. And pretty much anyone who wants to film folk dances or make traditional huayno music videos sets up their gear right in front of our house. This morning, for example, these dancers were hard at work filming their craft before we had even eaten breakfast!

Dancing to traditional Andean huayno music

February in Ohio, as Liz reminded me, is often a dreary month, especially if there’s no snow and the days are chilly and rainy as they have been this year. In contrast, February in Huaraz is full of excitement and festivities, and even though we’re in the middle of rainy season right now, this month is never dreary! So, for those of you who have been suffering through a bleak February in Ohio (or anywhere else, for that matter) take a quick break to enjoy some Andean culture as I show you some of our February festivals.

Early in the month people from all of the little villages surrounding Huaraz flock into town on Domingo de las Cruces (Sunday of the Cross), bringing their village or family crosses to be blessed in the Catholic Church. I wrote a post about this holiday a few years ago, which you can read about HERE.

Fernanda at her quinceanera party

Almost as soon as the syncretic Sunday of the Cross holiday ends, Carnival celebrations take over, lasting until the end of the month. Children, who are enjoying their summer vacation, stage water fights as often as possible, shooting squirt guns and throwing water balloons at unsuspecting strangers. Each neighborhood elects a “barrio queen,” who will compete against all of the other neighborhood queens for the title of Reina de Huaraz. Our Jose Olaya queen this year was sweet Fernanda, the pretty neighbor girl who used to come over to play “house” with Danny, Luis, and a few other neighbor kids when they were little.

Little did they know they were in the presence of “A Once and Future Queen!”

The barrio queens are presented to the town during a very long parade on the third Sunday of February, and this year I got a good laugh out of seeing one of the hungry queens grabbing a bite to eat from a street hamburger stand after the festivities!

The following Tuesday is called Martes Guerra, or War Tuesday, and with a name like that, you can imagine that anything goes on this crazy day! What used to be a major, town-wide water fight has morphed into into kids throwing flour, paint, and even car oil along with the water. Danny and Luis, anxious to join in the fun, grabbed their water buckets and met up with some friends from their karate and music classes. Several hours later they came home looking like this…

Ade made them scrub down in the backyard before coming in for lunch! I think the boys were a bit surprised to discover that they weren’t the first kids in our family to join the Martes Guerra fun.

Martes Guerra 1999

Ade played the water games every year growing up, but I don’t have any pictures of him, so I’ll post this one of me with Bethany & Johanna, two of my MK students after one very dirty Martes Guerra war when I first came to Peru!

Earlier in the day on War Tuesday, a large group of neighbors marched down our street, not yet wet but already decked out in party attire and partially covered in paint. They were carrying the cross from Jose Olaya’s little chapel, and I’m not exactly sure where they were going, but…

…they all came back late in the afternoon, laughing and dancing in the pouring rain, several of them drunk…

… still carrying their cross.

That sad face on Jesus always makes me wonder what he thinks about all this.

The day after Martes Guerra is supposed to be the day everyone repents of the excesses they’ve indulged in over the past few weeks, but our town manages to extend the partying through one more day and one more parade. As this day marks the end of Carnival, it’s also the day that the Rey Momo dies.

The Rey Momo makes his last stand

The Carnival King’s entourage holds a public reading of his will, which is actually a pretty funny roasting of all of the local political figures.

Then they parade his casket through the town…

…accompanied by all of his wailing widows and concubines, along with any number of ghoulish figures who will carry him to the underworld… or at least to the banks of the Quilcay River, where they throw in the casket of the fictitious king.

Finally, the excesses of Carnival end, and the people line up outside the Catholic church on Thursday night for Mutsaki.

Mutsaki is a Quechua word that means “The Kiss,” and the literal idea of this ceremony is to kiss the feet of Jesus and to beg forgiveness for all of the sins committed during the reign of the Carnival King. And while there was a pretty long line outside the church on this Mutsaki night, the little church plaza wasn’t nearly as full as it had been of revelers a few days earlier.

As I finish this post, February has just ended, and with it the excitement of Carnival and all of the other February festivities. But it probably won’t be long until another parade marches down our street, so give me a call and you might get to hear the music!

2 thoughts on “February Festivities

  1. Wow! They know how to celebrate! Granted, they are celebrating in some interesting ways… I pray that as God makes deeper inroads into their hearts they will celebrate him and his grace with the same abandon.

    Looking forward to the glorious celebrations we will have in heaven,



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