Culture

Living history

The past in the present

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Sometimes living in the now with eyes and hearts wide open means having to see where we’ve been.

San Geronimo Feast Day: Sept. 30, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., taospueblo.com

Feast days are an important aspect of Taos Pueblo culture that date back thousands of years. These special gatherings are about family, food and traditional dances. They are also a time when tribal members congregate in a renewal of their language, religion and culture.

In 1598, explorer and conquistador Don Juan De Onate colonized New Mexico for the Spanish Empire. Spanish missionaries soon embarked for this foreign land to bring their Roman Catholic faith to the Native American peoples living here, and converted many. This "convergence" didn't come peacefully. However, native beliefs and customs survived and became interlaced with Catholicism.

Today, feast days such as San Geronimo (aka Saint Jerome) Day at Taos Pueblo are as much an observance of ancient Native American traditions, heritage and abundance as they are commemorations of Catholic saints, such as Saint Jerome, patron saint of the Pueblo's church of the same name.

Saint Jerome was a Scripture scholar, having translated most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He is recognized as the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopedists. The feast day in his name at Taos Pueblo centers around the harvest.

Feast days are also, however, about spirituality. "Many people, particularly those of a spiritual bent, believe that the landscape terrains of the high forested mountains and the lakes, streams and rivers; the volcanic desert plains; the fertile valleys along the Northern Río Grande; the wide, breathing skies; and the living light of the powerful sun are infused with and emanate a primal spirituality that influences the multiple religious and spiritual traditions of ancient, recent and current peoples of the north and are often melded together in our feasts and faith celebrations," wrote David Fernández for The Taos News. "The feasts themselves affirm and manifest that belief. Guarded ritual and ceremony of pre-Christian spiritual traditions take place in ancient sacred sites and in the beautiful pueblo feast days (like San Geronimo at Taos or festivities at Picuris, Tesuque, San Ildefonso or any of the eight northern Native American pueblos)."

The Tiwa (Red Willow) people at Taos Pueblo do something extra special during San Geronimo Feast Day — they invite the public to witness their celebration every year on Sept. 30.

Public attendees will witness the traditional dances, the sacred clowns (whose true meaning is only known to the Red Willow people of Taos Pueblo) and pole climbing; the flavors of green chiles and scents of piñon; and a footrace at sunrise. There is also an open market featuring Pueblo arts and crafts.

Each dance narrates a different story and serves a different purpose. Dances are considered prayers, not a performance, and as such, outsiders are privileged to observe them.

Some of the events are invitation only. While historic, ancient and fascinating, the Pueblo is a home, not a museum, and each dwelling is a shrine; please be mindful of unmarked doors as they are not shops open to the public. One must be invited into a home to visit and/or share a meal. Please also respect “restricted area” signs.

It can't be stressed enough that no recording devices of any kind are allowed. This is about respect. It's about being culturally sensitive. Photos and videos are deemed invasive and potentially exploitive. The people of Taos Pueblo would prefer visitors take the feeling of the celebration home with them, rather than pictures and videos.

Taos Pueblo requests that visitors abide by the following rules on San Geronimo Feast Day:

No cell phones, cameras or recording devices.

Please respect the "restricted area" signs as they protect the privacy of residents and the sites of the Pueblo's native religious practices.

Do not enter doors that are not clearly marked as curio shops. Each home is privately owned and occupied by a family and is not a museum display to be inspected with curiosity.

Do not enter the walls surrounding the ruins of the old church or Taos Pueblo cemetery.

Do not wade in the river, it is the Pueblo's source of drinking water.

Leave pets at home.

Old Taos Trade Fair: Date TBA

Get a glimpse of how life used to be in the late 1800s during the Old Taos Trade Fair. The celebration of culture includes traditional music, ceremonial dance, demonstrations, storytelling and plenty of food at a historic site that is one of the few Northern New Mexico-style, late Spanish Colonial period “Great Houses” remaining in the American Southwest.

As of press time, the exact dates were not yet finalized, but the event is expected to be held in late fall. Doors open with The Grand Entrada, followed by an invocation and then a presentation of the 2018 Taos Fiestas Queen and the Royal Court.

Traditional food such as chicharrones will be cooking all day, every day, as the food emphasis comes from Northern New Mexico and Spanish origins. Also on tap are vendors and family and children's activities including retablo painting and games.

The Old Taos Trade Fair pays tribute to the frontier life of the 1800s and the settlers of Northern New Mexico. It's a re-creation of activities that people did in the olden days when la Hacienda de los Martínez was an active commercial center. The hacienda was built in 1804. It is set up today to represent 1820. Mountain men came from the Rocky Mountains to the hacienda starting in 1840, mostly to trade beaver pelts, as explained by Mary Ann Boughton, Trade Fair Committee chairperson.

"It was a welcoming place," Boughton said. "Mountain men could pitch their tents around the outside. People who lived there and slept inside the walls slept all over the place on bear skin rugs. There were no designated bed rooms."

During the Trade Fair, the Mountain Men will once again camp at the front of the hacienda, where they will ply their wares and retell old stories.

In the 1800s, this area was still Mexican territory and trade ventures with Chihuahua, Mexico, were common. After 1821, trade began with the United States via the Santa Fe Trail. Major traders, such as Severino Martinez, would transport raw wool and blankets, rugs and processed animal hides, and in turn  brought back iron, cotton, medicines, silk, books and manufactured wares that couldn’t be produced here.

This yearly event is a unique chance for visitors and the people of Taos to experience living history, from food to folktales. The Trade Fair is a magical, colorful celebration.

La Hacienda de Martinez is located at 708 Hacienda Road, off State Road 240 (Lower Ranchitos Road) southwest of Taos Plaza. For more information and admission prices, call (575) 758-1000.

— Compiled by Scott Gerdes

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