Native Treasures: Holiday-Time Ceremonies and Dances of The Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico

"Tribal dances and feast days open to the public during this time of the year can become part of your holiday tradition"

Date December 5, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Community Culture Education Lectures & Workshops Entertainment & Nightlife Family Festivals Food

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The Eight Northern Pueblos of New Mexico are a cultural coalition of Native American villages consisting of the pueblos of Taos, Picuris, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh, San Ildefonso, Nambe, Pojoaque and Tesuque.

Take time to visit the during this holiday season to learn about some of the area's dynamic traditional and contemporary Native American culture. Many tribal dances and feast days are open to the public during this time of year. With a little planning, a pueblo visit can enrich you and your family’s understanding of Native American history and culture during this festive time of the year.

Respect for Tradition

Northern New Mexico is a melting pot of shared cultural traditions, rooted in Pueblo, Hispanic and Mexican history. Dances are sacred and often deeply rooted in history and spiritual traditions. Keep in mind that customs and traditions vary greatly from pueblo to pueblo so check in with the pueblo office before attending an event. Taking photos during dances, for example, is often not allowed. Showing respect for each tribe and it’s customs is an essential part of a pueblo visit. Feel free to observe and take in the beauty but it's advised to act reserved and avoid asking questions.

Blending Cultures

During December, Okay Owingeh, Picuris and Taos dance the Matachine. The origins of this dance are an example of the blending of Native American, Hispanic and Mexican traditions. The Matachine tells the story of the conflict between good and evil. A beautiful and poignant dance interpreted differently in each pueblo, the Matachine is also danced in Hispanic communities on local feast days. In this dance, the characters of El Monarca (the king and his captains), La Malinche (the Indian maiden), El Toro (the bull) and the grandparents symbolize of the coming together of the people who settled Northern New Mexico.

Ohkay Owingeh holds a torchlight procession of the Virgin Vespers along with the Matachine on December 24. Ohkay Owingeh also holds the Turtle Dance on December 26.

Traditional Mass

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many of the pueblos host special masses and dances. The procession of the Virgin Mary with dancers and bonfires is held after the Christmas Eve Vespers at Taos Pueblo and Tesuque Pueblo hosts a midnight mass dance. The tradition of the midnight mass and evening masses speaks to the Catholic and Anglican belief the birth of Christ occurred at night. Many of the ceremonies offered by members of the Eight Northern Pueblos during this time of year display a mix of both Native American and Catholic traditions.

Though the Eight Northern Pueblos still hold their own religious ceremonies, Christmas Mass is a tradition in pueblo households that incorporates both Catholic and Native worship.

Pueblo Feast Days

During feast days, pueblos open up their community and doors to the public (learn more about feast day etiquette) to share their dances, songs and food. Feast days are generally held annually on the same day. These celebrations shine light on many aspects of pueblo life, including the designated patron saint of each pueblo. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the observed patron saint of Pojoaque Pueblo, is honored on December 12 with a dance ceremony. The Procession of the Virgin Mary is observed with dances and bonfires in Taos Pueblo on December 24.

Transfer of The Canes and Kings Day

On January 1, most of the Eight Northern Pueblos celebrate the Transfer of Canes, a ceremony that transfers tribal authority to new tribal officers. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln presented an ebony cane with silver crown to each pueblo to mark the arrival of the U.S. Land Patents. These ceremonies are not open to the public, however, many are followed by dances, which are open to the public. It's a good idea to reach out to the pueblo office before making your way to one of these dances.

January 6 is Kings Day, a ceremony in which new tribal officers are celebrated with traditional dancing. These dances are open to the public and performed at most pueblos. The dance, yet another example of traditions melding together, is generally animal themed and starts mid-morning and lasts throughout the day. 

Tips For Your Visit

Call ahead to confirm dates as well as access to tribal lands. Ask about a photographic policy. Refrain from asking questions or pressing for any information. Silence is appreciated during all dances and applause is considered inappropriate. Alcohol, firearms and drugs are strictly prohibited. Entering a pueblo home is not allowed unless one is invited. If invited, during feast days it is appropriate to eat, but don't linger, as there are often many mouths to feed.

Traditional Pueblo Meals

A traditional pueblo meal during the holidays is an experience you will not soon forget. At the beautiful home of Norma Naranjo on the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, you can enjoy a traditional meal. Inside Norma’s home, called The Feasting Place, you can eat at the huge communal table. Everything you eat comes from her farm and ranch and you will leave with a wonderful taste of pueblo life and culture. For more information, visit www.thefeastingplace.com or call (505) 753-67676.

Contact the Eight Northern New Mexico Pueblos:

·       Nambe - (505) 455-2036

·       Picuris - (505) 587-2519

·       Pojoaque - (505) 455-2278

·       San Ildefonso - (505)  455 -2275

·       Ohkay Owingeh - (505) 852-4400

·       Santa Clara - (505) 753 -1028

·       Tesuque - (505) 983-2667

·       Taos - (575) 758-1028

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