Patagonian New Year

I know what you’re thinking - it’s been months since New Year, what am I reading? For the western world, New Year lands on January the 1st. However, in different cultures, people celebrate New Year at different times. You’ve most likely heard of Chinese New Year, celebrated annually at the end of January or beginning of February. But you may not have heard of Wiñoy Tripantu, or Patagonian New Year, celebrated annually by indingenous people in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, on the 24th of June. For them, New Year is right around the corner. Here’s everything you need to know.

The Mapuche people, indigenous to Patagonia, number at around one and a half million spread across both sides of the Andes mountain range in both Argentina and Chile. They celebrate Wiñoy Tripantu each year in June to signify the return of the sun - being in the southern hemisphere, this is around the shortest day of the year, meaning that the days will begin to get longer and warmer. It signifies the end of the harvest period and the beginning of a new sowing season. The Mapuche culture holds great importance to astronomy, astrology and cosmology, and therefore these cosmological events are very meaningful to the community.

The Mapuche New Year is marked with a meaningful celebration, with an emphasis on community. A number of families or communities will gather together to celebrate as a group. Everyone has a different role in the ceremony, which involves singing, dancing, a shared meal, as well as giving offerings to the land. Often, a wood fire is lit, which lasts until sunrise the next day. Elders of the community will tell stories to the group, often focussing on the philosophical, political and cultural, as a way of continuing on the Mapuche culture through generations. The whole ceremony ends with a communal breakfast that morning.

Historically, the Mapuche people have suffered hardships, both at the hands of rival groups, from the states of Argentina and Chile over land ownership, and the people or both countries as a result of prejudice and discrimination. Many of these problems have effects that are still being felt today. For many, the New Year celebration is a chance to put aside these issues and come together as a community, to celebrate the natural world, and be grateful for their place in it.

So this June 24th, perhaps spare a thought for the Mapuche people celebrating their New Year, and have some appreciation of the different cultures that enrich this little planet we call Earth.