If there is something common to all Catholic countries, it is the celebration of the Carnival. In Peru, indigenous customs are intertwined with colonial Carnival season and the results can be very colorful. While Carnival is celebrated across Peru with pomp and fervor, it is the ritual of Yunza that sets the country apart from other Catholic countries.
The ritual is most common in the Andean highlands but is also celebrated in the coastal and Amazon regions, where the traditions known by other names such as Umisha and Cortamonte. It is important to remember that Peru is a large country with diverse traditions and customs depending on the region.
The ritual begins with those in charge of the festival creating an artificial tree that is full of decorations and gifts. You might even think that it resembles a Christmas tree, but the Yunza tree does not look anything like the familiar pine tree we are all familiar with. Sometimes it might look surreal to a visitor from another country, who might expect a more traditional-looking tree.
Once the tree is loaded with gifts and decorations, people begin to dance around it. Finally, people chop the tree down and collect all the gifts. A lot of merry making and dancing takes place at this time, and do not be surprised if the party gets a little too boisterous. The couple that makes the final swing of the ax at the tree gets to take over the next year’s Yunza celebrations. Thankfully, the Yunza tree is a group effort and everyone contributes something to the effort.
An important part of the ritual is the understanding that whoever takes anything from the tree will return with double the amount the next year. “Take one, bring two” is the essential idea behind this ritual. If you take a piece of cake, you will have to return with two pieces of cake the next year The idea is to make the Yunza larger and larger every year.
Would you try and locate a Yunza this Carnival and return to Peru again the next year?