By Marc Simmons
The first Christmas of record occurred in 1598 with a midnight Mass at a hastily constructed church adjacent to the newly named San Juan Pueblo (now called Ohkay Owingeh). Participants were New Mexico’s founder, Juan de Oñate, and his colonists.
They and their successors introduced rituals and customs that traced back to old Spain. Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) and Navidad (Christmas Day) were at the center of an extended season honoring the birth of Christ.
Over the centuries, the holidays became deeply embedded in the local folk culture, developing along the way its own distinctive flavor.
The Pueblo Indians at an uncertain date adopted the masked dances of the matachines and blended in their own ceremonial calendar. Performances were given at Christmas, but on other occasions also, such as the feast of Guadalupe (Dec. 12), as is still done at Jemez Pueblo.
The pueblos, having Spanish Christianity imposed upon them in the Colonial Period, gradually Indianized the celebration of Christmas, the matachines being a part of that process. Winter animal dances, especially the Buffalo Dance, were included during the days between Dec. 25 and New Year’s.
By Nathan Suazo and Rick Romancito
The interesting thing about the celebration at Taos is that it’s a blend of Christianity, Native beliefs and traditions that can only be said to have evolved as part of the unique quality of this region.
As such, some things can be talked about openly, while others—those specifically having to do with Native religion—cannot. For instance, on Christmas Day, the tribe will be performing the Deer Dance. This is a sacred ceremonial filled with meaning and vital importance for the world, but details about it are held tightly secret from outsiders.
“For many of the pueblo cultures, the deer is a very important animal,” tribal member Marcie Winters says. “The dance is something that is difficult to explain, but it is a beautiful tradition to witness.”
By Hannah Grover
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Dine Christian Center will be holding a Christmas concert at the Old Shiprock Chapter house. There will be hot chocolate and kids are encouraged to dress traditionally. The concert will start at 6 p.m. each day.
On Saturday, the Solid Rock Outreach and Promotions is holding "An Evening with the Kinlichiiniis" and Navajo Ministries is presenting a live nativity scene featuring children from the Four Corners Home for Children.
For more on Native Christmas traditions, see Navajo Santa and Matachines Dance at Northern Pueblos.
Below: "A group of matachin dancers from Bernalillo performing at El Rancho de las Golondrinas in 2011."