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Air your grievances, show your strength—but no poles allowed in this traditional Christmas fist fight

A place where punching your neighbour in the face is just tradition

Friday, December 19, 2014, 4:35 PM - Is the usual 'holiday spirit' not doing the trick anymore? Then maybe it's time to look into Takanakuy, the 'Christmas tradition' that mixes social justice, violence and just the right amount of catharsis.

As close to the Seinfeld-created secular holiday Festivus as you might find, Takanakuy also mixes 'the airing of grievances' (lashing out at those that have disappointed you) with 'the feats of strength' (picking a family member for a wrestling match). In this South American version, neighbour is pitted against neighbour in a one day, free-for-all.

The tradition dates back to the late 1500s in the Andean region of South America and was a response to the oppression of the native Indians by the Spanish colonizers. It has since severely evolved into what it's become today.

Accompanied by music containing lyrics like "I will always be fighting, that's why my mom brought me into this world with arms and legs," residents of the towns where the event takes place jump into the middle arena facing strangers, neighbours and even family members. The skirmishes are sometimes referred to as 'dances'

One of the most popular reasons behind the fights is to settle disputes. Often the matriarchs of two families will face each other as husbands and children root on from the sidelines. The event is a "valid" form of social justice for many residents and most respect the decision reached by the winner of the fight.

While many days throughout the year are chosen for this sort of unusual event, the most popular fights are saved for December 25th.

And while the tradition may seem centered around violence that doesn't mean it's all about animosity. When the fights are over, the two opponents embrace each other and receive the widespread admiration of the spectators.

So why do they carry out this tradition? According to some, the reason they do it is simple.

"We 'dance' to receive the birth of baby Jesus with joy," said Nilo Duenas, an organizer of the Takanakuy event. He also added that the fights actually minimize the amount of fighting that occurs throughout the year. If two residents have a disagreement on the soccer field, they promise to settle their fight on Christmas Day and continue with their game.

After the main battles are over, everyone takes to the field to perform huaylash, traditional dances to panflute-led music. Costumes and the Andean wine-like beverage 'chicha de jora' complete the joyous end of the "violent" christmas tradition. Any additional fights will have to wait another year before they can be resolved.

The event is, of course, not without criticism. Many residents of the cities where these fights take place refer to Takanakuy as a "savage event."

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