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When the conquistadores came to what’s now New Mexico, they brought their faith and traditions with them. Local lore suggests that the Fiestas in Taos have been celebrated for hundreds of years in some form. However, for the third time in a century, the Fiestas de Taos will be postponed until the following summer. No Fiestas in 1946 for reasons unknown, cancelled in 1969 because of “hippie problems” and now in 2020 due to serious COVID-19 concerns.
What began as solely a Catholic tradition meant to honor the feast days of Taos’ patron saints – and those of Spain – has been adopted community-wide into the rhythm of the year. As a time to pause amid summer’s labors, folk gather on Taos Plaza to eat, drink, dance and be merry. Religious ceremonies wrap the celebration in faith and mystery. For Catholics, patron saints provide guidance and protection in particular areas of life. Santa Ana, patron of the elderly, homemakers, mothers and the poor and Santiago, patron of hunters, laborers, pilgrims and soldiers, are honored guests at this three-day event.
Local and regional bands and singers fill the plaza from noon on Friday through Sunday evening with the sounds of guitars, horns, drums, accordions and violins. Hands clap, feet stomp, whistles and voices call out as partners dance their way through the Gran Baile on Saturday night. Dance troupes, from flamenco and Aztecan to ballet and modern, shake the floorboards of the pavilion. A marcha (procession) leads worshipers from the fiesta mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe back to the plaza lifted up by the sounds of mariachi.
There are two parades over the three-day celebration, including a children’s parade, where Taos’ youngest cheer, dance and sometimes animate giant puppets to the delight of the crowd. They spin adventures in their imagination as they ride the Tío Vivo carousel, thought to have been built in the 1880s. Owned by the Taos Lions Club, it’s been adopted by generations of fiesta-goers. Among the youth, many here will someday be the adults who bring their own children and grand kids to the fiestas.
One of the Fiesta traditions dates to at least 1927: the crowning of la reina (queen)and royal court. La reina, a young, unmarried Catholic woman, and her four princesas, preside as role models at fiestas across New Mexico and other public celebrations throughout the year, such as the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. These women safe guard and promote the customs of the four centuries old Hispanic culture.
Don Francisco Trujillo, President of the Taos Fiesta Council, points out, “How do you know where you want to go if you don’t know where you come from?” Trujillo recounts a favorite Fiesta moment: each year the Queen, her court, entourage and a mariachi group visit the Taos Living Center at lunch time to share food, music and nostalgia. No doubt some of the center’s residents once rode Tío Vivo themselves.
Caution around a global pandemic means that Santa Ana and Santiago will be celebrated quietly this year. Until then, Taoseños, Taoseñas and visitors to be can treasure memories of Fiestas past and to come. ¡Que Vivan Las Fiestas!
By Mackenzi Frederick.
Mackenzi is a writer and editor who has lived in Taos since 2000.