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Patagonian New Year

Pablo Etchevers Pablo Etchevers

On June 24, the primitive peoples both from Chile and Argentina celebrate the beginning of the new year. An ancient tradition which attracts new visitors every year.

Traditions in the Southern Hemisphere

The Mapuche people, as well as the most primitive peoples on the continent, have developed a great knowledge of astrology and astronomy. They have managed to interpret the movements of the sun, the rest of the stars and the planets, as well as the changes they produce on nature and even people.

The understanding and decoding of the language of Earth and nature has made it possible for these peoples to accurately define the start of every stage, and the ending and the beginning of the new year.

“We Xipantu” or “Nquillatún”, which in the Mapuche tongue mean “new year” or “sunrise of the new sun”, is the most important celebration of the primitive peoples from the southern hemisphere and it occurs simultaneously with the Inty Raimy (of the Inca tradition), during which praises are said and thanks are given to one element which is essential to life: the sun, source of wisdom and renovation.

Traditions in the Southern Hemisphere

The coming of winter, which in our hemisphere takes place on June 21, coincides with the winter solstice, the point in the calendar when the earth tilts at its greatest distance away from the sun. This is the shortest day in the year and the longest night. For the Mapuches, this natural phenomenon sets the ending of the harvest period and the beginning of a new sowing season.

Taking as a basis a cyclical conception of time, the celebration's protagonist is the sun.

According to the Mapuche religion, the sun is born with the coming of winter, it becomes a youth and then turns into an adult in the spring, it grows old during our summer and it starts to die in the fall, when the trees lose their leaves, the animals change their fur and other phenomena alter nature, including men.

Traditions in the Southern Hemisphere

The ceremony begins on the night of June 23, with complete families gathered around a big bonfire and listening to the eldest members of the group as they taste typical dishes specially prepared for the event. At the break of dawn, the members of each family, old men and children alike, abandon the warmth of the fire to get to the closest river, stream or spring creek and have a bath in a purification rite so that their body and soul are clean before welcoming the new sun and, therefore, the new year.

A series of individual and group prayers follow the bath and thus, the celebration begins. Afterwards, families return to their homes playing typical instruments and dancing to their music.

Traditions in the Southern Hemisphere

Dozens of activities take place at the various communities. These include: religious ceremonies, popular games and baptisms. Girls over six years old have their ears pierced as a way of setting the end of their childhood.

All these practices are aimed at strengthening the spirit of brotherhood within the community, friendship among family groups and the co-existence with the others. Maybe that is the reason why it is not surprising that in the last few years, these popular celebrations have been open not only for the Chilean and the Argentinian in general, but also for a large number of foreign tourists who visit the area during this season in order to watch and take part in the rituals deriving from an evolutioned phylosophy of life which is far from getting lost.

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the largest primitive people in Argentinian – Chilean Patagonia is the Mapuche people, which includes almost 800,000 members spread to both sides of the Andes Mountain Range.
In Chile, according to one of the latest census carried out by the Dirección de Estadísticas Sociales de los Pueblos Indígenas (Indian Peoples Social Statistics Department), there are 604,349 Mapuches, which represents 87.3 % de of the total Chilean Indian population.

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