When in New Mexico, attend a feast day at a Native American pueblo
The magic of travel unfolds when you get a glimpse into the lives of people from different parts of the world – or just the next state over.
Every July 26, the Tamayame people gather at their old pueblo village, about 30 minutes from Albuquerque, to celebrate their patron saint of St. Anne. I joined a small group staying at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tamaya in visiting the pueblo village today, expecting to see some traditional dances and learn a little about the culture.
I left with much more than that.
New Mexico is home to 19 pueblos, each with its own patron saint and calendar of feast days. At the festivals, community members dance, wear traditional costume, share food, celebrate the harvest and honor their patron saint.
But it’s way more than that. The feasts highlight friendships and family, and in a way they thank the world for taking you into its fold.
We arrived a little before noon, just as lines of dancers – women with long black hair wearing black dresses and moccasins, men with sashes, white leggings and fox tails strung from their hips – lined up to file into the small plaza and dance to the beat of drums and chanting. They all carried pine boughs; some had bells strung around their legs.
We watched for 45 minutes, then ducked into an alcove of greenery at the end of the procession to pay respects to St. Anne, the mother of Mary.
Afterward, in an unplanned stroke of travel nirvana, a man named Travis invited us into his home on the edge of the plaza to sit at his family’s dinner table and share in a traditional feast. We met his wife and children, and squeezed around a huge table while bowl after bowl of homemade food made the rounds.
I ate the best green chile chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted. I sipped posole spiked with chicken, nibbled rich, smokey carne guisada, tasted roasted corn dusted with something that tasted like cojita, and tried a dozen other dishes bursting with the flavors of New Mexico. I left with a crunchy sweet pueblo cookie tucked in my pocket.
We thanked our hosts, who told us all we could do to return the favor was sign the guest book. And now that we’ve been taken into the fold, we were told, we were welcome to come back every July 26 for the family’s feast.
That kind of generosity just doesn’t happen every day, and it didn’t end there.
We stepped out of the little adobe home into bright sunshine, squinted our eyes and discovered that in our absence, the villagers had brought their feast day offerings out to share. A line of food – cookies, wedges of watermelon, home-made tamales tied in corn husks, cups of stew and piles of bananas – stretched for at least 25 yards down the center of the plaza. All this, set against the gorgeous backdrop of a rugged mesa wall.
We were told to partake, lest we offend anyone. So, of course, we did.
The pueblo’s feast dates to the influence of the Spaniards, who came here in the late 1500s to spread the Catholic religion. They assigned each community a patron saint, and each pueblo holds a feast day to honor that saint. The festivals combine the cultural influences of the Spaniards and the locals.
Many of the feast days are open to the public. If you go, respect the community you are visiting. Women should wear modest clothing, and don’t attempt to photograph or even sketch what you see.
For more information about feast days go to https://www.indianpueblo.org/19-pueblos/feast-days/. For more information about the Santa Ana Pueblo, go to http://www.santaana.org.
And look for more about my visit to Tamaya in an upcoming article.