From the desert in the north to the cold fiords in the south, every year different religious celebrations bring together thousands of believers and visitors, offering the visitors a unique experience to become acquainted with the customs of the country and the spiritual side of the Chilean people.
A great number of rituals together with dances, costumes and prayers, are a proof of the blending of european traditions with the culture of our traditional indigenous groups.
These are some of the most important celebrations:
This is the most popular religious festival of the north of the country, and it gathers a great amount of visitors. Although it currently takes place every 16th of July to commemorate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the celebration is Andean in origin and is strongly associated with the cult to the Pachamama, Mother Earth to the Aymara and Quechua cultures. This is a demonstration of the “mestizaje” or mix of cultures between the autochthonous American and European people.
The celebration is concentrated in the town of La Tirana, 90 kilometers away from the city of Iquique. The festivity last several days, and it is formed by a series of rites, songs and dances, while wearing andean outfits that stand out for their colours and shapes. The most famous of these dances is the “Diablada” (Devil’s Dance), where dancers with large colorful masks of demons confront the forces of good led by the Archangel Michael. All accompanied by large bands of brass instruments and drums, spicing up the celebration without stopping.
Visitors from all over the country, and even from Peru and Bolivia, attend the celebration. A celebration that brings together our beliefs with our neighbours’ beliefs, dances and traditions.
This celebration has its origins in the popular religiousness of the Chilean countryside. It takes place the first Sunday after Easter in localities of the central zone close to Santiago, such as Lo Abarca, Cuncumén, Lo Barnechea, Llay Llay, Colina, Peñalolén, Casablanca, Talagante, Conchalí, Isla de Maipo and Maipú.
The celebration goes back to colonial times, when priests visited the towns to take communion to the sick and elderly who were unable to fulfill their religious obligations during Holy Week. To keep the priests from being attacked by bandits during their journey, the Catholic “huasos” accompanied them, wearing distinctive white cloths over their head.
The Quasimodo’s groups prepare themselves throughout the year, bringing together families and communities by manufacturing the outfits and the carts’ decorations that will be used during the processions. In the urban areas of Santiago, where the celebration has become very popular, horses have given way to bicycles, which are decorated as the carts and horses, becoming part of this caravan.
It is considered as the biggest religious celebration in the country and it takes place on December 8th to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception day, where a great amount of catholics travel to sanctuaries devoted to the Virgin Mary. The Lo Vásquez temple is located in the municipality of Casablanca, on the route between Santiago and Valparaíso and is the most visited sanctuary by religious believers each year.
Both from the capital and the central coast, thousands of pilgrims set off to the Lo Vasquéz Church to ask for or repay a “manda” or favor granted by the Virgin. So many pilgrims attend the festival that part of the route is closed off to motor traffic to enable the faithful to arrive safely at their destination; which has become popular among cyclist that take advantage of the closed highway. Stalls with food and different merchandise also offer their wares around the temple.
Located 68 kilometers east of Concepción, Yumbel is a town of 20,000 inhabitants that receives over 300,000 visitors every summer. The reason? During that period they venerate Saint Sebastian, one of the first Christian martyrs according to the catholic tradition. The local cult began in 1663, when Spaniards carried a cedar wood image of the saint into the town, which today stands on the altar of the Yumbel Catholic Temple.
The local inhabitants began to attribute miracles to the saint, such as the quenching of a fire in 1747, making Yumbel’s reputation grow as a sanctuary city. A series of commercial activities and places selling local cuisine are developed around the religious festivity, where you can find anything from clothes to religious articles.
At the San Sebastián festival it is possible to see the rural traditions of the center-south of Chile related to religious fervor, because many pilgrims attend the festival dressed in the typical outfits of the Chilean countryside. Although the official celebration is on January 20th, many agricultural laborers must be at work at that time and so it is also celebrated on the “20 Chico” (little 20th.) on March 20th.
Each August 30th in the Caguach Island, Los Lagos Region, the Caguach’s Jesus of Nazareth is celebrated, the biggest religious celebration of Chiloé. Visitors from different parts of the archipelago travel and organize a regatta to arrive massively on their barges and boats, through the beautiful fjords and islets of the area. The tradition began in 1778 with franciscan priests, who installed in the island’s temple a figure of Jesus. The wooden structure is a faithful representation of Chiloe’s churches; 16 of them are currently considered World Heritage Sites, including the one in Caguach Island.
Nowadays the celebration is organized by several island, which are in charge of decorating the church, organizing the activities and preparing the arrival of the visitors. A unique celebration that puts together the magic and traditions of the Chiloe archipelago.
This post is also available in Spanish