Taos Pueblo Christmas Eve

December 25, 2013 — Leave a comment
Taos Pueblo Christmas Eve

Jocelyn and I standing in front of San Geronimo Chapel in Taos

I’ve always been somewhat interested in the Native American culture, but after our trip around the world, I gained a whole new appreciation for what we have in the US.  We spent our Christmas holiday in Taos, New Mexico and made it to the Taos Pueblo Christmas Eve Celebration to experience an incredibly powerful night.  I’ll add the full explanation below the incredible pictures Jocelyn took.

Bonfires at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico

The entire Pueblo is set ablaze with bonfires such as these

Taos Pueblo Men carrying rifles

Taos Pueblo men carrying rifles, shooting live rounds, and leading the way for Mary

Tueo Pueblo - Virgin Mary carried into church

The procession carrying the Virgin Mary into the San Geronimo Church

Taos Pueblo procession leading into the church

The procession heading into the church

The full explanation from Taos Visitors Guide:

In the northern villages of New Mexico, ritual re-enactments of history by the Hispanic community — combined with medieval morality plays known as autos sacramentales brought to the area during the Spanish conquest — are faithfully re-created in distinctive Christmas celebrations.

At the Indian pueblos, Catholicism is intertwined with ancient American Indian beliefs. When the Spanish arrived in New Mexico in the 16th century, missionaries assigned a patron saint to each pueblo in an effort to convert tribal members to Catholicism. Because tribal rituals coincided with the saints’ days, these religions eventually merged.

A Taos Pueblo spokesman says that a large percentage of tribal members are baptized Catholic and that the church service is much like Catholic services elsewhere. The only difference, he says, is that the motifs in the chapel have native elements and tribal members wear blankets and moccasins.

On Christmas Eve, the northern pueblos celebrate this most important Christian holy day in a distinctive Indian way. Most moving are the vespers with bonfires and the procession of the Virgin Mary at the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo— a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The drama of the event unfolds at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, amid the orange and purple hues of a winter sunset. At sundown at the pueblo’s San Geronimo chapel, the archbishop of Santa Fe presides over vespers. As the sky darkens to a deep blue, torches are lit, and families build huge bonfires of ocote pine in the main plaza.

Orange flames illuminate the night sky, shooting up spires of smoke. Other smaller bonfires are scattered throughout the plaza and in front of homes. Residents gather on rooftops covered in snow.

At the end of vespers, the chapel bells peal. The archbishop and acolytes lead a procession out of the tiny chapel, followed by six men carrying a dais that holds the statue of the Virgin Mary under a billowing canopy. At the front of the procession, pueblo men carrying rifles shoot live ammunition into the air to announce her arrival. Drummers and members of the church choir follow, and the throngs of people there for the bonfires join in the procession. The beauty, mystery and power of the scene are profound.

The Taos Pueblo Community extends a warm welcome to their Taos neighbors and to all friends of the Pueblo.

Taos Pueblo at night

Taos Pueblo with luminaries lit and stars in the background

Taos Pueblo Christmas Eve bonfires

Taos Pueblo with fire and smoke raging in the background

Taos Pueblo Christmas Eve

A beautiful shot of the entrance to the church with bonfires blazing in the background.

Taos Pueblo bonfires

Bonfires blazing in the middle of Taos Pueblo’s Christmas Eve Celebration.

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