If you’re planning a trip to Santa Fe, here’s an unusual suggestion to make your experience truly authentic: get out of town.
Don’t get me wrong. Santa Feans love our visitors. And while we can’t wait to show you around our Plaza and quaint historic center, we also want you to experience a soul-stirring adventure around Santa Fe. That means venturing just outside Santa Fe to a nearby Native American pueblo.
Locals and visitors alike will tell you visiting a Native American pueblo is an experience that defies explanation, but I’ll try anyway. New Mexico’s Native American pueblos are the oldest tribal communities in the country. So when you visit one of Santa Fe’s neighboring pueblos, you’re stepping into living history.
Native American pueblos preserve the tradition of honoring spirit, earth, and all living things. You can feel it. I know every time I walk the sunny packed dirt sidewalks of Taos Pueblo I feel connected to something greater than me. And when I see the sun sparkle off the beaded headdresses of the dancers, I feel I am sharing the spirit and traditions like someone standing in the same spot a hundred years before. It’s just that powerful.
Of the 19 Native American pueblos in New Mexico eight are located within a short drive of Santa Fe. Although each pueblo has its own distinct traditions, customs, history and native dress, they all have celebrations. At a pueblo’s “Feast Day” you’ll be immersed in centuries-old rituals, spectacular dancing (the renowned Santo Domingo Corn Dance includes up to 1,000 dancers) soulful singing, and beautiful native attire.
Feast Days are open to the public, and in addition to the traditional pageantry often include cultural activities, food and arts and crafts vendors – be still my shop-a-holic heart. My friend explained it best, “I will never forget watching the dancers, from little ones to elders, and seeing their pride of their people and culture.”
Feast Days bring to life Native American heritage, as a visitors we have the honor of sharing authentic sacred traditions. The celebrations provide a way of giving praise and thanks for life of their ancestors. With that in mind, consider these tips for enjoying your visit to a pueblo, while honoring the sacred rituals:
1. Stay in the area designated for the feast day or event. Families still live in the pueblos, so enter a pueblo home as you would any other: by invitation only.
2. Ceremonial dances are part of a religious ceremony. Do not applaud after a dance or interrupt or talk to dancers before, during or after a dance. Ceremonies should be watched quietly and respectfully.
3. Most Native American pueblos and tribes forbid drawing, videotaping and photography on the pueblo or at dances and events. This is to preserve the sacred nature of the event and the privacy of the people living there.
4. No pets.
5. No cellphones.
6. No alcohol.
7. Shaking hands is the appropriate way to greet a Native American. But, Native Americans prefer a gentle handshake to a firm one.
8. Also, don’t forget sunscreen, water, and cash. You’ll be outside and you might need some supplies or souvenirs.
Planning a trip? Below are the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos, and information about upcoming events.
“Mound of Earth in the Corner”
Buffalo Dance following Christmas Eve dance (Dec. 24)
Buffalo, Deer and Antelope Dances (Jan. 6)
Matachine and various dances (Dec. 25)
Turtle Dance (Dec. 26)
“Those Who Paint”
Christmas Eve Mass and Dances (Dec. 24)
Holy Innocents Day; children’s dances (Dec. 28)
King’s Day Dances (Jan. 6)
Candelaria Day Dances (Feb. 2)
P’o Suwae Geh
“Water Drinking Place”
Feast Day Mass (Dec. 11)
Feast Day (Dec. 12)
“Where the Water Cuts Through”
Evening Firelight Dances (Jan. 22)
Feast Day (Jan. 23)
“Valley of the Wild Roses”
“The Place of the Red Willows”
Sundown torchlight Procession of the Virgin, Vespers and Matachines Dances (Dec. 24)
Matachine and various dances (Dec. 25)
Turtle Dance (Jan. 1)
Deer or Buffalo Dances (Jan. 6)
“Cottonwood Tree Place”
San Diego Feast Day (Nov. 12)
Of course, there are more events than these listed. In addition to the links provided, you can go to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture’s website for general info about pueblo events.As a proud Santa Fean, this is one time I encourage you to hit the road. Enjoy a truly authentic cultural experience at a Native American pueblo. Santa Fe will be waiting for you when you get back with the glow of a piñon fire and a warm bowl of green chile stew.