by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman
Many people think of Brazil when they think of Carnival, but actually it is a celebration that occurs all over the world. Carnival is traditionally a Catholic celebration that coincides with Lent. Historically, the Catholic Church required all alcohol and rich foods to be discarded during Lent prior to Easter, but instead of simply discarding the alcohol and food, townspeople would gather in large celebrations to enjoy their beverages and eats prior to their 40 days of prohibition. Today, Carnival is celebrated for more-or-less the same reasons.
Peru, being a predominately Catholic nation, celebrates Carnival all over the country. When asked, “What is Carnival?” many Peruvians answer with, “A reason to drink and eat and spend time with friends and family.”
On Carnival, like any good celebration, there is plenty to eat and drink, but it isn’t all about the food and booze. In fact, in Peru, there are also parades, tree cutting ceremonies, and water. O, yes! Water… A water fight, to be exact. A country-wide water fight. This water fight has no age limits, no escape, and no winners. Everyone becomes some degree of wet. Weapons include water guns, water balloons, spray bottles, buckets of water, and foam spray.
In Cusco, the weapon of choice is foam, for its quick drying properties and far dispersal. The culmination of the battle is in the Plaza de Armas. Truly, this celebration is for everyone. Parents teach their children how to fire foam aerosol cans, and complete strangers bond by dousing each other in water or foam. The only rule is: don’t douse your same gender. Some people may think that they don’t want to participate or get wet, but, the reality is, everyone enjoys themselves. Getting sprayed and getting wet are just part of the fun.
In the afternoon, after the water fight has calmed and the sun begins to set, neighbors gather together to take part in a yunsa celebration. A yunsa is the tree cutting ceremony. A tree is decorated with ribbons, blankets, plastic containers, tires, balloons, clothes, toys, and other prizes. Then, people dance around the tree in a circle, drinking and chatting, and couples take turns attempting to chop down the tree with an axe. This goes on for hours, because each person is only allowed three swings at a time. Once the tree actually falls, everyone scrambles to claim their prize, like with a piñata. The couple that eventually strikes down the tree becomes responsible for getting the celebration ready the following year.
Long into the night of Carnival, even after the water fight has ended and the tree has fallen, families and friends dance and eat and drink and simply enjoy each other’s company. As far as celebrations go, what more could one want?