September 10, 2013 at 11:41 AM

The Spectacle of Fiestas

"Fiestas, absorbed through the senses of a child, is the essence of the spectacle."

By José Smith

The Beans & Chile

José Smith is a writer, stay-at-home dad and fiend of excellent essays.

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The passing of Fiestas is a sign that summer is over. Along with a few weeks of school gone past, and hints of fall weather around the corner, the end of our annual party means that soon we’ll be heading for hibernation. Our next big public gathering will come on Christmas Eve, where faces, half-lit by flickering luminarias and booze, will float up and down Canyon Road, mostly unrecognizable to one another. Honestly, it’s probably not until Fiestas comes again that we’ll find each other as randomly and genuinely as we did this past weekend.

Some say that Fiestas just isn’t what it used to be. I’ve heard and shared in the gripes: it’s become too expensive; Zozobra on Thursday nights is lame; the peoples‘ parade is just a bunch of local politicos; etc. What it does lack, I believe, is the strong connection it once had to its cultural and historical roots. Yet, that does not take away from its relevance as a genuinely good spectacle. My three-year-old, for instance, is not concerned with the history of Fiestas; she’s hardly concerned with the history of ten minutes ago. Children are great at giving us know-it-all adults lessons in the here and now. Spectacles, to them, do matter in many ways.

Fiestas, absorbed through the senses of a child, is the essence of the spectacle. It’s a crowd of thousands scarily chanting, “Burn ‘im! Burn ‘im! Burn ‘im!” It’s thousands of more people snugly lining the streets, as treasures of candy sprinkle the asphalt. It’s cotton candy, caramel apples, and sticky fingers. It’s cheap plastic toys (that haven’t seemed to change since I was a kid) that parents are begged to buy. It’s music and voices mixed together. It’s missed naps and the eventual Fiesta hangover.

On Saturday night my wife and I went downtown without the kids in tow (sometimes, as a parents, you just need some time to enjoy the spectacle without the dizzying pace of the little ones). After a few laps around the plaza we found a bench near the center, and simply sat. Sat and absorbed. We saw handfuls of people we knew, keeping count as a sort of game. We scooched together so a few other couples could sit too; they came and went. The heat of the day was gone. We sat there for nearly an hour. The lights in the trees, the noise, the people, it all floated there before us.

This spectacle, I have no doubt, is still Santa Fe’s most genuine gathering of its people. I experienced it through my children’s senses. I felt it myself for a while on Saturday night. And despite its perceived differences to the past, it really hasn’t changed much since I was a kid. Even if we never again regain its cultural and historical relevance (which is so damn complicated anyway), it’ll continue to be that one great genuine event, the spectacle, that brings Santa Feans together like nothing else throughout the year. Que Viva!

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