Photo courtesy of Taos Pueblo
Observers fill the street and rooftops during the 1916 San Geronimo Feast Day.
Feast days are an important aspect of Pueblo culture that date back thousands of years. These special gatherings are about family, food and traditional dances. They are also a time when tribal members congregate in a renewal of their language, religion and culture.
In the 1500s, the Spanish entered territory that later became New Mexico. They brought with them their Roman Catholic religion. Missionaries embarked for this foreign land to bring their faith to the Native American peoples living here, and converted many. However, native beliefs and customs survived and became interlaced with Catholicism.
Today, feast days such as San Geronimo Day at Taos Pueblo are as much an observance of ancient Native American traditions, heritage and abundance as they are commemorations of Catholic saints.
Saint Jerome was a Scripture scholar, having translated most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He is recognized as the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopedists.
The feast day in his name at Taos Pueblo centers around the harvest.
The Tiwa people at Taos Pueblo do something extra special during San Geronimo Feast Day — they invite the public to witness their celebration beginning at midnight on Sept. 30 through midnight Oct. 1.
Public attendees will see the traditional dances, the sacred clowns (whose true meaning is only known to the Red Willow people of Taos Pueblo) and pole climbing; the flavors of green chilis and scents of piñon; and a footrace at sunrise. There is also an open market featuring arts and crafts.
Each dance narrates a different story and serves a different purpose. Dances are considered prayers, not a performance, and as such, outsiders are privileged to observe them.
Some of the events are invitation only. The Pueblo is a home, not a museum, and each dwelling a shrine; please be mindful of unmarked doors as they are not shops open to the public. One must be invited into a home to visit and/or share a meal.
It can’t be stressed enough that no recording devices of any kind are allowed. This is not because of the commonly held false notion that the Indians will take your spirit if you snap a picture or shoot a video on your cell phone. It’s about respect and to deter exploitation.
“It’s being culturally sensitive,” explained Ilona Spruce, Taos Pueblo tourism director. “Photos are very invasive and we already allow so many people to come into our community throughout the year. We’d rather people take the feeling and the memory home with them instead. We’ve had to fight to keep what we have here. It is not to be duplicated. It’s just being sensitive to the community.”
Taos Pueblo requests that visitors abide by the following rules on San Geronimo Day:
No cell phones, cameras or recording devices.
Please respect the “restricted area” signs as they protect the privacy of residents and the sites of the Pueblo’s native religious practices.
Do not enter doors that are not clearly marked as curio shops. Each home is privately owned and occupied by a family and is not a museum display to be inspected with curiosity.
Do not enter the walls surrounding the ruins of the old church or Taos Pueblo cemetery.
Do not wade in the river, It is the Pueblo’s source of drinking water.