How the Incas celebrated New Year

Aracari’s Weekly Insight

The Question:

How did the Incas celebrate New Year?

The Answer:

Despite the distinct lack of fireworks, staying up til 12 Oclock and renditions of Auld Lang Syne, the Inca celebration of the new year – over the winter equinox in June – was a very important event in their calendar.

Not least of all, the equinox marked the return of the sun from its farthest position from the earth and the beginning of longer days.

Observing the Sun

Huge importance was placed on the movement of the sun in Inca times, and it was the most significant god in the pantheon of Andean religion. The Incas and cultures before them tracked the movement of the sun using sophisticated measuring devices in the form of stone pillars. They placed pillars in exactly the position where the sun rose and set on the shortest days of the year – from the 21st to the 24th of June.

Marking the winter equinox, the colourful spectacle “Inti Raymi” in the city of Cusco, or “festival of the sun”, is thought to have been one of the most important rituals in the Inca Empire, with celebrations lasting for as much as nine days.

The ceremony was doused in rituals, which are believed to have entailed the Inca drinking Chicha de Jora – a type of drink derived from maize –  to honour the sun. Ceremonies were held in the main plaza of Cusco, where pilgrims from across the empire would assemble. There was also much merriments in the form of feasting, drinking and dancing.

Despite clandestine ceremonies taking place during the Spanish conquest, Inti Raymi was completely prohibited by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1572 as a pagan ceremony opposed to Catholicism.

Nevertheless, since the 1940’s, a theatrical representation has taken place at the temple-fortress of Sacsayhuaman above the city of Cusco on the 24th of June, attracting many locals and tourists alike.

As for Inca prophecies about 2012 … well, this author does not care to speculate. All the best for a happy and prosperous New Year!!

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