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Each year, the Peruvian province of Chumbivilcas hosts the vibrant Christmastime festival of Takanakuy. High up in the Andes Mountains, at an elevation of around 3,600m in the well-known Cusco region, communities get together for celebrations involving music, dancing, drinking, eating and brightly coloured costumes. It’s much like any number of festivals in Latin America – except this holiday gathering culminates with a series of public fist fights on Christmas Day (25 December).

Entire towns congregate around sporting arenas to watch members of the community fight each other. People of all ages enter the ring, from young children to the elderly, and participation is open to women and men alike. The purpose of Takanakuy is to settle grievances built up over the year -- be they civil disputes or personal ones -- in a public forum. The festival seeks to resolve conflict, strengthen community bonds and hopefully, arrive at a greater peace.

Takanakuy, which translates to “when the blood is boiling” in Quechua (the primary language in the region), is a sort of more organized version of the comical “Festivus”, a holiday that most people believe was invented by the 1990s US TV sitcom Seinfeld. Festivus was actually created in 1966 by the father of one of the programme’s writers, Daniel O’Keefe; and just as O’Keefe’s family celebrated the tradition annually, people all over the United States continue to hold Festivus celebrations around Christmas to this day. On the television show, Festivus was portrayed as a secular holiday “for the rest of us” which forgoes the commercialism of Christmas for such practices as “the Airing of the Grievances” (in which friends and family members air their grievances with each other verbally) and “the Feats of Strength” (in which they do so physically). Considering that the fictional holiday ends with two family members wrestling each other, you can see how it is similar to Takanakuy.

But, contrasting the hilarity and absurdity of Festivus, there is some logic to be gleaned from Takanakuy. Once a year, people are encouraged to confront social tensions, get everything out in the open and let their aggression out -- once and for all. In the small towns of Chumbivilcas, this may be preferable to living side-by-side with someone you harbour negative feelings toward.

The fights themselves are relatively civil, bearing closer resemblance to martial arts sparring than uninhibited brawls. The matches are fully organized, with referees standing by to intervene at any sign of misconduct, and there are rules, such as no biting or no hitting someone when s/he is down. Each fight is typically very quick, sometimes lasting less than a minute. And, reflecting the intention of Takanakuy, each fight begins and ends with a hug or a handshake.

This 2009 video clip shows the festival in action. For a deeper look at Takanakuy, this episode of the documentary travel programme The Vice Guide to Travel shows celebrations in the towns of Santo Tomás and Llique.

While in town
Takanakuy festivities take place against a mountainous backdrop 180km south of the city of Cusco, a must-visit destination for travellers due to its proximity to the beloved Incan site of Machu Picchu. In Cusco, the city’s Plaza de Armas hosts the Santuranticuy market through 25 December, drawings artisans from surrounding areas who come to sell crafts, clothing, food and various Christmas gifts.

After a holiday filled with grievance-airing, market shopping and Andean trekking, relax your muscles at the thermal baths in Aguas Calientes, a village in the Machu Picchu area about 120km from Cusco city. Several cosy hotels have set up shop around the pueblo’s mineral baths – such as the well-reviewed luxury Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – making this the perfect place to wind down your exploration of Andean culture.

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