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Las Posadas: A Santa Fe Holiday Tradition

The holiday tradition of Las Posadas takes place on Sunday, December 11, at 5:30pm at the Palace of the Governors

So much of the holiday season seems so familiar and so relentlessly repetitive, and once-only experiences are becoming a rarity. That’s one of the reasons that Santa Fe loves Christmas Eve and the annual farolito display, a quietly moving spectacle that those who have come to the City Different over the holidays have no doubt seen.

Farolitos Light the Way

Less well-known, however, is the unique tradition known as Las Posadas, also a one-night-only event. A re-enactment of the Holy Family’s search for lodging, this annual holiday happening takes place each year in and around the historic Santa Fe Plaza. While the Plaza hardly looks Biblical, having already been lit with holiday lights and a Christmas tree, and the staging includes some details not found in the usual account, the story nonetheless comes to life in a very local way.

The Santa Fe Plaza Dressed in Snow

Originating in Spain as a religious observation, Las Poasadas is actually a novena, a nine-day event, occurring from December 16 through December 24. Although celebrations of Las Posadas are not uncommon in Northern New Mexico towns, places deeply rooted in the Spanish Catholic tradition, the one-night Plaza re-enactment grew out of a 1970’s era neighborhood campaign against development that sparked an annual celebration, which subsequently outgrew its original San Antonio Street location and moved to the Plaza.

Costumed participants portray the mortals who, in the biblical account, refuse lodging to a humble young pregnant woman and her carpenter-fiancé. As the couple circumnavigate the Plaza from the Palace of the Governors (the oldest government building in the U.S.), seeking rest and shelter, they stop on each corner to seek lodging and comfort, finding instead denial and disappointment.

Taking Off Winter's Chill by a Luminaria at the Palace of the Governors

The devil, who ridicules and taunts the seekers from perches on the portals on the Plaza, is in turn treated to the boos and hisses of  the assembled crowd, their faces illuminated by candle light. The supernatural power possessed by the devil purportedly allows him to magically appear at each of the Plaza locations designated as the “inns” where the couple tries to obtain a warm and dry spot in which to shelter. Four mortals portray the tormenting demon, crawling out of second-floor windows to discourage the weary travelers.

After numerous refusals stating that there was no room at “the inn,” thanks to the appearance of an angel who blesses the crowd and provides guidance, the couple and their entourage finally find respite from the chilly night in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors for the denouement of this holiday event. Once inside the courtyard, the procession warms up with hot cider, cookies, and a round of Christmas carols.

Sound interesting? It is! Just be sure to bundle up, since the winter Santa Fe weather has definitely arrived, and it’s nothing like Bethlehem temperatures. This year, Las Posadas takes place on Sunday, December 11, 2011, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Please note that the New Mexico Museum of History will close early at 3:00 p.m. to prepare for and accommodate this holiday tradition.

The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola

And if you cannot attend, you can still create a special holiday reading tradition, thanks to noted author/illustrator, Tomie dePaolo, proof that an unusual event like this is indeed inspirational!

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