There are many traditions in Bolivia that must be celebrated as a cultural rite of passage for indigenous Bolivians.
Bolivia is a country steeped in tradition, rich in cultural heritage, mysticism, and known for throwing a good party, ranging in themes from the spiritual and traditional to the more uninhabited and westernized. One of the things that makes Bolivia so special is the fact that pretty much at any time of year, you can rest assured there will likely be an event to celebrate. Bolivia’s festivals are colorful, alive, all-consuming, and offer a little something for everyone.
Feria de Alasitas Festival
In January, right after New Year’s Eve, is the beginning of the famous “Feria de Alasitas” festival. The Alasitas festival is an artisanal fair with a twist, everything is in miniature. In 2015, the BBC reported about the Alasitas festival, introducing its magic to the world. Typically starting on January 24, the Alasitas festival is a month-long cultural event that honors the Aymaran (an indigenous group in Bolivia) God of Abundance “Ekeko” and is based in La Paz. People participating in the festival buy miniature versions of the things they would like to have happen to them and/or their loved ones during the year. Some examples of goods that can be bought are household items, food, computers, construction materials, cell phones, houses, cars, and even university diplomas. Participants then take their purchased items to a Shaman (holy person), to receive a blessing on their purchased items which in their belief system increases the likelihood that what they hope for will manifest at some point during the coming year.
Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria
In February, Bolivians near Lake Titicaca in a town known as Copacabana (yes, Brazil does not boast the only Copacabana in the world) celebrate the Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of the Candle, which represents the purification of the Virgin Mary), honoring the patroness of Bolivia. People from all parts of Bolivia and beyond make the pilgrimage to Copacabana from February 2-5, to celebrate a combination of Andean and Catholic traditions, set against a backdrop of eating, dancing, drinking, and music. The Virgen de la Candelaria is revered in Bolivia for a series of miracles she is believed to have performed in the area. Throughout the three-day celebration, people pray and party in the streets, celebrating the Virgin with vigor. Highlights include the blessing of new vehicles by priests with beer, as well as, a ‘running of the bulls’ on the third day where inebriated locals avoid being gored by the 100 or so bulls stampeding along the main road.
Catholic Festival of San Juan Batista
In June, country-wide the Catholic festival of San Juan Batista is celebrated to coincide with Bolivia’s winter solstice (as Bolivia is in the Southern hemisphere, June is the time of the winter solstice), and the start of the historic harvest season. Traditionally as part of this festival, large fires were lit outside everyone’s homes and old household belongings were thrown into the campfire to symbolize a purge of the old to make way for the new. It was also a widely held belief that the flames would keep evil spirits away on the coldest night of the year. Over the years as the celebration evolved new beliefs were introduced, including the belief that you could read your luck for the year to come in the leftover ashes of the “purge” fires. Another belief is if you get up early on San Juan eve then you won’t be able to sleep all year. A third belief which incorporates love is, if a bachelor/bachelorette looks out the window on the morning of June 24th, they will see the love of their life pass by. An interesting practice celebrated the night of the San Juan Festival, is walking across hot coals of the “purge” fires to show the spirits you are tough and unafraid of the looming cold season. Bolivian legend dictates that if you attempt to complete the fire-walk at the stroke of midnight, then at that exact moment the hot coals will not burn your feet. I am not going to test that theory.
There are many traditions in Bolivia that must be celebrated as a cultural rite of passage for indigenous Bolivians and those I’ve mentioned (among my favorites), only scratch the surface. Bolivia is a diverse, multiethnic, remote, and mysterious country with a distinctive personality which merits exploration, especially for those seeking a meaningful experience and the opportunity to explore different paths in life.