Christmas In Santa Fe

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My last night in town I joined in a Spanish tradition sponsored by the palace called Las Posadas, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a room in Bethlehem. Shortly before 7:00 P.M. a crowd gathered on the plaza, all of us bundled up in scarves and ski jackets, holding the candles we would light at the proper moment. The farolitos on every rooftop made the sky seem blacker, and it was just cold enough that I hoped the proceedings would begin on time. At precisely seven, we heard voices begin to sing, and members of a local Spanish church dressed as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds appeared from behind the palace to lead a procession around the square. “It’s a tradition that the Franciscans brought over to teach Indians about religion,” Thomas Chavez, the director of the Palace of the Governors, explained. “We used to have Mary on a donkey, but the donkey liked to bolt, so this year we did without him.”

Doorways are decorated with wreaths of chili peppers, and piñon smoke makes the air smell like cinnamon.

During the next hour the procession stopped at five prearranged stations along the plaza singing ¿Quién nos da posada? (“who will give us shelter?”). And at each stop an ebullient, horned, red-suited devil emerged from a second-story window onto the roof to send them away. The first time this happened, a few Santa Feans hissed softly under their breath. By the last time rousing boos greeted the devil. And when, at the final stop, Mary and Joseph were welcomed into the courtyard at the palace, cheers rang out, and we all squeezed through the gate behind them. Alone in a strange city at Christmastime, I, too, felt welcomed in.

—Jane Colihan TO PLAN A TRIP