Striking similarities: Fighting the good fight
On Dec. 25, the residents of Chumbivilcas province in southcentral Peru will be celebrating, but they won’t be decking the halls. They’ll be decking their opponents.
Christmas Day is marked with a fist-fighting festival called Takanakuy, which translates as “to hit each other.” Think of it as the Fist Noel.
On the morning of the fight, in places like Santo Tomas where the tradition started, people gather in the plaza in front of the church to eat a dessert similar to fried donuts. Church bells ring to commemorate the birth of Jesus then everybody moves to the local bullring because fighting at the church is strictly forbidden.
Though men do most of the fighting, women and kids also get into the act. Nobody knows how the tradition began but it likely came from initiation rites marking a teenager’s entrance into adulthood, or was introduced by the Spanish along with cockfights and bullfights.
Regardless, the festival now lets the Quechua people celebrate who they are. As one study of the rituals explained, “They are expressions of a sense of belonging to a specific culture, and it affirms their values. It reaffirms and strengthens their cultural identities [and] allows them to distinguish themselves from others.”
That’s reflected in the colourful masks worn by fighters. Resembling ski masks, they’re decorated in red, green, yellow, and white, symbolizing the four corners of the cosmos, and paired with costumes depicting characters from Andean history.
The most common outfits resemble those of Peruvian horsemen and include leather chaps and hats, but many young people add biker attire and sturdy, decorated boots. To look more menacing, they also adorn their heads with stuffed birds or animals.
More wealthy fighters wear formal clothes including fancy waistcoats and silk capes — calling to mind the slave masters of colonial times — and others don shiny material to represent the locusts that devastated the region in the 1940s.
As for why the people fight, rivals and relatives square off to settle personal disputes that surface during the year. High in the Andes, there are few police and some villages are hours away from a conventional court, so the fights are often used to settle legal matters.
But some fight just to prove their courage and masculinity. Even friends mix it up, just for fun, and pummel each other with big smiles on their faces.
Though rules vary, most towns insist fighters wrap their hands with cloth. Punching and kicking are okay but it’s forbidden to bite, pull hair, or hit somebody when they’re down.
Winners are decided by either a knockout or a ruling by officials, who carry bull-whips to enforce rules and keep the crowd under control.
After the fights — which often last only a minute — opponents are expected to shake hands or hug, then most join other revellers for singing, dancing, praying, and the drinking of beer or a thick, fermented corn drink called chicha.
Locals say letting everybody blow off steam in the fights stops people from carrying grudges or letting things fester, clearing the way for a happier new year.
Though authorities have tried to stamp out the festival, it’s now spreading to Peru’s largest cities and attracting non-Indigenous people of all incomes and backgrounds. That’s making the observance more popular but watering down its original significance.
Sound familiar? The parallels between Takanakuy and Christmas really are striking, even though the two seem direct opposites. Think about it.
If you look past all the talk of peace, joy, and goodwill toward all, the meaning of Christmas is rooted in violence because its true significance is found in the bloody cross of Easter. The good news is not that Jesus was born a baby, but that the baby grew up to be a Lord and Saviour who gave his life on Calvary to set us free from sin.
Christ went toe-to-toe with Satan and won. So like Takanakuy, Christmas represents the throwing off of slavery. When we keep Jesus at the centre of the celebration, Christmas is a mark of our identity and distinctiveness.
It affirms our spiritual values and distinguishes us from the other cultures around us.
And once we truly embrace the depth of God’s love and sacrifice for us, the Christmas story should help up put things in perspective, resolve disputes, and clear the way for a happier new year. From the manger to the cross, Jesus demonstrates the surrender of power and position, and complete obedience to God’s will.
That example should inspire us to don the clothing of our particular culture.
“Above all,” we’re told, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For... you are called to live in peace..” (Col. 4:14-16)
Interestingly, the apostle Paul compares living that life to a fist fight. “Pursue righteousness and a godly life,” he says, “along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.
“Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you.” (1 Tim. 6:11, 12) “I’m not just shadowboxing. I discipline myself, training to do what I should.” (1 Cor. 9:24-26)
Peace through conflict? Sure. We have peace with God because Jesus came to confront evil. Even when we must confront each other, good things can happen when we truly love one another, act with the proper motives, fight fair, and carry forward no grudges or resentment.
This Christmas, fight the good fight. Put up your dukes.