Tradition and Culture
Culture and Tradition

of Northern New Mexico

Northern New Mexico is among the richest places in the world when it comes to culture and tradition. New Mexico has more Native Americans and a higher percentage of Hispanics than any other state. The Pueblo, Spanish and Anglo cultures are the the three major cultural groups of the area. The original Indian Civilization was blended with that of the Spanish, and this distinctive civilization was, in turn, modified by the impact of the Anglos during the ninteenth century. This cultural heritage of modern New Mexico is unique among the fifty states.

At San Juan Pueblo, about 100 of the adobe homes are 700 years old, built long before the arival of the first Europeans to the Southwest. At Taos Pueblo, the site has been occupied for nearly 1000 years and the residents live in the largest exising multi-storied adobe structure in the United States, and possibly the world. Adobe structures keep the heat in during the winter and out in the summer. Because of this mud is often a more desirable resource than many others.

Although adobe contruction techniques were used by Native Americans long before the Spanish arrived, the Spaniards introduced their own innovative architectural elements to the area. The horno (meaning "oven") was used to cook food outdoors. Today, hornos are still used my many New Mexicans, especially to make bread.

The Spanish also brought the Catholic religion and its traditions with them. Today, many Northern New Mexicans participate in posadas (meaning "inns") during Christmas time which is used to symbolize Mary and Joseph's travels before Jesus was born. The community takes turns having special masses at a different church every night, and selecting different people (usually children) to play the part of Mary and Joseph. Also, every year on Good Friday many people make a pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo, a church which is believed to have sacred soil with healing powers. People walk for miles and miles to reach the church with their families and friends. Everyone has different reasons for making the pilgrimage, and along the way people pray or think about the reasons. Many carry figurative burdens with them to leave at the church, where others bear physical burdens such as heavy crosses with them. The cross pictured at the top of this page is a place where people often hold a small mass before proceeding onto the Santuario.

The Spanish also brought a tradition called the Matachines with them which is Moorish in origin. Today, both Indian and Spanish cultures have their own renditions of the dance. La Malinche is a young girl who wears a white dress and represents good. El Torrito is a young boy who is dressed as a Bull and represents evil. He chases around after La Malinche, but in the end La Malinche overcomes him. Another character is El Abuelo who is the ringleader and makes sure everyone is dancing properly. He wears a mask and carries a whip to keep everyone, including the audience, in line. He is somewhat of a comic relief in modern times, however, less than a century ago El Abuelo was not funny at all. Parents would tell El Abuelo if their children had misbehaved and he would publicly whip them. Parents sometimes still warn their children that if they don't behave El Abuelo will get them, even though this warning does not have the same connotation it once had. There are also several religious figures who dance close to the center, and El Monarcho who dances in the center of the group. Other characters in the dance are Los Comanches who ride around on their horses and are the only ones with dialogue. Some say the Indians have better preserved the dance to the way it was originally. The churches in each town in Northern New Mexico have their own special time of year to perform the dance.

Even though many Indians practice Catholism they have their own religions as well. Many people do not realize that Indians dances are not for show, but they are sacred prayers. Each Pueblo has one day of the year reserved for celebration and prayer for their Pueblo. These are feast days in which the Pueblo gives thanks.

Speaking of food.....once you have tasted New Mexico cuisine, it cannot escape your brain. CHILE! Need there be anything else said? Many visitors are taken aback when a asked in a restaurant if they would like "red or green." The question is so natural to Northern New Mexicans that restaurants needn't supply this superfluous information. Some other New Mexican cuisine includes enchiladas, carne asada, posole, chicos, tacos,burritos , pinto beans, tamales, tortillas, and sopapillas with honey . Everything goes with chile. You may have a difficult time getting a New Mexican to give up their delicious recipies!...But if you're real nice you might find a cook with a soft spot.

Another time to celebrate is during fiestas. Many towns have fiestas, and two towns in particular have well attended fiestas. The first is Española who has a week of fiestas in honor of Don Juan de Oñ.ate. The second is Santa Fe who has thier fiestas in honor of Don Diego de Vargas. Along with good food and fiesta, Santa Fe also has the yearly burning of Zozobra, which has come to MEAN Santa Fe fiestas to many people. Zozobra, also known as Old Man Gloom, is a 30 foot "puppet" with moving arms and a moaning voice filled with fireworks. He represents all of last years' troubles and problems. A person with red ribbons dances like a flame around Zozobras feet with a real torch. All children are invited to dress in a sheet as ghosts and dance around Zozobra. The idea is that Zozobra has caused evil in the past year and now the ghosts will get him and he will be set on fire. People chant "BURN HIM!" and The flame dancer teases Zozobra until the last moment when he finally torches him. Zozobra wails and moans until his head sets off a fireworks display.

These are some of the things that help give a taste of Northern New Mexico. Observing them may seem to be "culture and tradition" but to those who live in Northern New Mexico it is just the way of life.

* La Casa Grande