Why you should care

Because a simple airing of grievances isn’t always enough.

Christmas should be a time for peace and joy, but, as we all know, “quality time” with family and friends can drive even the most zen-minded among us a little nuts. Some Peruvians have found the perfect sublimation strategy. It’s called Takanakuy, and it involves knocking out your nearest and dearest on Christmas Day.

Every December 25, hundreds of indigenous Andean citizens of the Chumbivilcas Province, near Cuzco, celebrate by wrapping their fists in tissue and duking it out, gladiator style, with friends and relatives. It’s not just passive aggression. Some use Takanakuy to settle serious personal or legal disputes. Your best friend stole your girlfriend? Wait for Takanakuy. Your neighbor built on your property? Wait for Takanakuy. The rules are simple: Whoever wins, wins the case. “It’s only slightly violent,” says Milagros Flores Chino, a regular participant who lives in Cuzco.

Women, elders and even children can go at each other while hundreds of spectators stand by watching.

Takanakuy — which in Quechua means “when the blood is boiling” — started centuries ago in the city of Santo Tomas, according to one of the festival organizers. Lore has it that the community was so utterly isolated that the citizens had to come up with their own system for effectively settling thorny legal disputes. Punching matches seemed to provide efficient justice, and ease social tensions, besides.

But don’t assume that means Takanakuy is no-holds-barred. Biting or kicking someone when he’s down is forbidden, and there are referee-type figures equipped with colorful whips ready to separate fighters if one of them violates the rules. They’ve also added police who stand by in case things get too out of hand.

Today, many amateur boxers join Takanakuy for the fun. And it’s not only young men. Women, elders and even children — with parental approval — can go at each other while hundreds of spectators stand by watching, laughing and cheering. On top of the kicking and punching, the festival is surprisingly joyous, with music, dance and copious amounts of alcohol. Everybody dresses up for the occasion in a peculiar style that combines traditional belts, colorful ski masks and even stuffed animals as hats. No wonder the practice has become so popular it’s now spreading to larger cities like Cuzco and even Lima.

Feel like giving it a try to clear the air before the new year? Watch this video for tips. Plus, get a full sense of the festivities in the longer clip below.

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