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Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice in Peru, which marks the beginning of winter and a day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest period of night all year.  Today also holds a historical meaning.  According to the Incas, the sun stayed in the same place after the 21st (Winter Solstice) until it rose on the 24th (Inti Raymi – which means Sun Festival).  This week, Inti Raymi follows the winter solstice, as after the shortest day of the year, there is a celebration of the sun’s new year.

We refer to “The Incas” as a civilization, but when the Incan Empire was in existence, there was only one Inca.  Inca is a generic word for king so, for example, the first Inca was Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui.  The Inca played an essential role on Inti Raymi as he was thought to be the son of Inti (the god of the sun).  On Inti Raymi, a ceremony would be performed at Sacsayhuaman at noon.  The Inca would sacrifice a llama, and hold the heart of the llama up to Inti.  This sacrifice was meant to build a special bond between the Inca and Inti so that only the Inca had the ability to ask Inti to stay with his people.  Before Inti Raymi the days had been getting shorter, and the people were worried that Inti would leave them.

After the ceremony, everyone celebrated, knowing that the sun would stay with them longer.  This tradition continues today, as the same ceremony is performed in Quechua with actors playing the Inca and his people, and an acted out sacrifice of the llama.  The day begins at the Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) on Saturday morning where praises are given to the sun god.  From the Qoricancha, the procession moves to the Plaza de Armas.  At the Plaza there is a traditional reading of the coca leaf to predict the fate of the Inca Empire for the upcoming year. After the Plaza, we move to Sacsayhuaman, where the ceremony is performed.  The Inca speaks in Quechua to Inti before sacrificing the llama.

Viewing Inti Raymi can be difficult, so it is best to plan ahead or arrive for the parts of the festival that are easiest to view.  The part at the Qoricancha takes place at the gardens outside of the temple, but many locals arrive early to have a better view.  Almost all of Plaza de Armas is closed off for the celebration, so there is room for people to stand in the square. There are also restaurants that have balconies which offer views of the festival, but these can fill up so it is best to make reservation beforehand.  At Sacsayhuaman there are bleachers that people can sit on, but they are very expensive.  The better option would be to sit on the hills surrounding Sacsayhuaman, but even these will be crowded so it is best to arrive early.

Major roads are closed during Inti Raymi and taxis as well as buses do not run.  Make sure to have your plans scheduled beforehand so you do not get stuck.  Also, if you plan to follow the procession throughout the day, bring sunscreen, water, hats, and something to eat because the crowds make the walking time to Sacsayhuaman, Plaza de Armas, etc. much longer.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that Inti Raymi is an important holiday, not just in its historical context, but also because of what it represents.  This holiday celebrates the intelligence of the Incas.  They were able to have detailed knowledge of astrology so much so that they could discern when the winter solstice was.  This holiday is an example of how religion and science can be combined to create a tradition, and knowledge that have lasted since 1412.

By Abigail Sullivan