SANTA FE, N.M. — Courtenay Mathey stood back and admired what he and a handful of teenagers had created on the grounds behind the Santa Fe Children’s Museum on Saturday afternoon.
“If it wasn’t so windy and we got some snow, it would be perfect,” he said of the farolito labyrinth they had laid out in preparation for that night’s Winter Solstice Festival.
Using just five stakes, a piece of rope with knots tied at 4-foot intervals and 365 farolitos, the group plotted out a pattern to form what’s called a Cretan labyrinth.
“The design comes from ancient Greece, but the Hopi have also used it,” Mathey said. “The Hopi refer to theirs as a symbol of mother and child.”
That was appropriate given the setting of the Children’s Museum and the upcoming Christmas holiday. But Mathey said the design choice was more or less serendipitous.
The use of 365 farolitos, however, is no coincidence.
“Each one represents a day of the year,” he said. “The idea is to think about the year behind you and the year coming up and gain perspective,” he said. “There’s beauty in walking the whole path – a feeling of balance and peace to move ahead with joy and happiness.”
Mathey said this year marks the 25th year of the farolito labyrinth, which he said was originated in Santa Fe by a group of earth energy votaries.
“A few years later, the Children’s Museum asked us to join them and it’s become a tradition,” he said.
But the use of labyrinths have been around much, much longer.
“Labyrinths date back thousands of years and have always had a religious or spiritual significance,” he said. “People have used labyrinths forever as a form of meditation or a way of centering themselves.”
Mathey said walking down the path of the labyrinth can have a balancing affect on an individual. One must make as many right turns as lefts in order to complete the route inside and out.
Unlike a maze, which requires choices of paths and direction to go in one way and out another, a labyrinth is a single path that leads to the center and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.
“You get to the end, then circle around the other way,” he said.
The center of the labyrinth is seen as a goal and organizers placed a bell there so walkers could signify their achievement.
“Some people leave rocks or a penny as an offering, or they make a wish or say a prayer,” he said.
But the main purpose of the labyrinth at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum was pure enjoyment.
“The biggest thing is it brings out the fun,” he said. “People get lost in the path and enjoy themselves.”
Rachel Kissling-Gilman, director of programs and visitors experience, said the labyrinth has helped draw crowds to the Winter Solstice Festival for years.
“The Winter Solstice Festival is one of the longest running traditions we have at the Children’s Museum and the labyrinth is one of the main draws,” she said.
The event also included a drum circle performed by the African music group, Agalu. Storyteller Juliet Staveley told tales from around the world by light of a bonfire.
It made for a nearly perfect beginning to the longest night of the year. By the time the candles were lit, the wind had died down and there were even snow flurries in the air.