December 24, 2012

Native New Mexican Christmas traditions

Trail Dust: Three cultures flavor New Mexico Christmas traditions

By Marc SimmonsFor newcomers, their first Christmas in New Mexico often catches them by surprise. The sacred holiday here always seems a bit foreign, or even exotic, and at the very least unfamiliar.

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 OƱate, 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.
And:On Christmas Day, one could usually find a performance of the matachin dance drama, whose origins can be linked to medieval Spain. On the way to New Mexico, the matachines had added Indian elements from central Mexico, becoming a distinctly New World spectacle.

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.
A Taos Pueblo Christmas is like no other

By Nathan Suazo and Rick RomancitoAt Picuris Pueblo in southern Taos County for instance, the tribe there does the Matachines Dance for Christmas. This performance dates back to a blend of traditions that began with the Moors, flowed into the Spanish who then brought it to the New World as a way to teach elements of Christianity through mythic theater. This dance is also done at Taos Pueblo, but only on rare occasions.

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.”
Navajo bring their own flare to Christmas celebrations

By Hannah GroverFrom concerts in Shiprock to Nativity scenes and luminarias in Farmington, the Navajo are celebrating Christmas with their own style.
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.
Comment:  I think I saw a deer dance once. But it was at another pueblo, not Taos.

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."

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