With open invitations to visitors, feast days and festivals at any of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico offer immersion into another culture, if just for a day.
“Our access to the Native American culture in New Mexico is one of the state’s greatest treasures,” says Monique Jacobson, N.M. Cabinet secretary for tourism. “We are so fortunate to be able to respectfully observe and participate in the rich traditions that have existed for centuries.”
Pueblos in the state are sovereign nations, so like travelers anywhere, well-prepared visitors adapt to different customs.
Tom Kennedy, tourism director at Zuni Pueblo, about 150 miles west of Albuquerque, says each pueblo is distinct.
For example, Zuni has festivals, which feature traditional dances, but not a feast day which celebrates a patron saint. “Zuni Pueblo does not celebrate a feast day because it has never embraced any aspect of Catholicism for various reasons,” Kennedy explains.
Most pueblos, with history that dates to the 14th century and earlier, overlaid aspects of Catholicism into their culture when Spain arrived to the high desert in the 1500s. According to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center website, indianpueblo.org, friars and priests, who established churches at the pueblos, often chose a patron saint with a corresponding feast day to align with traditional celebrations.
Feast days are part sacred and part secular, but all aspects demand respect, Kennedy says. “Feast days are a bit complicated to fully understand. The religious part is also part of the European religion, Catholic, and part traditional Pueblo religion, because the kiva is often involved. The traditional dances are likewise somewhat religious in intent but distinct from the purely religious kiva practices.” Those practices are closed to visitors and require respect for cultural privacy, he adds.
“Pueblo public festivals and feast days are indeed all about welcoming strangers to the community and generously sharing foods and activities that everyone can enjoy,” he says. “Such times contrast with Pueblo religious activities. It is an important distinction that unfortunately many outsiders don’t seem to understand.”
Jacobson says being as gracious a guest as your pueblo hosts is a good rule of thumb: “My first feast day left a lasting impression when I was growing up in Taos and even today I’m amazed by the richness of traditions that still exist. Even more memorable is the graciousness of the people I’ve encountered while visiting pueblos around the state. Last year, while attending a feast day at the Jemez Pueblo, I was invited into a home to share a meal. I will always remember the warmth with which I was met, having lunch with multiple generations of a family who treated me as if I were one of their own.”
She recommends going to as many feast days as possible to begin to appreciate the depth and variety of the cultures:
“The dancing, food and sense of community all play a vital role in the overall cultural experience. And though you can’t take photos during these events, you can take a piece of your experience home by visiting some of the local artisans at these celebrations.”
Of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico, many have summer feast days or celebrations. For information, also visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center website, indianpueblo.org.
- Kennedy says two events are planned in August at Zuni Pueblo:
The Zuni Arts & Cultural Expo, a juried arts show, emphasizes authentic Native American arts. Featured at the event, Aug. 9-10, are traditional Zuni dances, art demonstrations, an arts raffle and more. Contact the Zuni Cultural Arts Council at 505-862-1285.
Also, the 50th Annual Zuni McKinley County Fair, Aug. 22-23, will feature daily parades, traditional dances, powwow and country music, food, youth activities, art markets, carnival rides and more. Contact Zuni Visitor Center, 505-782-7238.
Two routes to Zuni are both scenic: Take I-40, 78 miles west of Albuquerque to exit 81, south/southwest 76 miles on NM 53. Or take I-40, 138 miles west of Albuquerque to exit 20, south on NM 602, to junction in 33 miles with NM 53, then 10 miles southwest on NM 53. ashiwi.org
- Jemez Pueblo kicks off the summer season on Memorial Day weekend with a celebration at its Red Rocks Arts and Crafts Show, says Mary Pecos of the Walatowa Visitors Center. Saturday and Sunday, May 24-25, feature traditional dances from across the area with a powwow on Monday, May 26. Arts and crafts and food are available.
Jemez’s summer feast day is on Aug. 2 for St. Persingula, Our Lady of the Angels, she says. For information, call the visitors center at 575-834-7235.
To get there take I-25, 16 miles north of Albuquerque, exit 242, northwest 25 miles on NM 44, junction with NM 4 at San Ysidro, 4 miles northeast on NM 4. jemezpueblo.com.
- Santa Clara, between Santa Fe and Taos, celebrates two summer feast days, St. Anthony with corn dances on June 13 and St. Clare, Aug. 12 with harvest dances, says Jessica Naranjo of the pueblo, 505-753-7330. Santa Clara Pueblo offers visitors a number of highly diverse attractions, from tours of the prehistoric cliff dwellings of Puye to sightseeing, fishing and camping in the nearby canyon. Visit puyecliffs.com for information about the tours.
To get their take I-25 north to Santa Fe, 84/285 north of Santa Fe 24 miles, junction with NM 201 in Española, 1 mile southwest on NM 30. There is a sign on the highway.
- Ohkay Owingeh celebrates the feast day of St. John the Baptist, June 24. Contact the tribal office at 505-852-4400.
Take I-25 north to Santa Fe, 84/285 north of Santa Fe 24.3 miles, junction with NM 68 in Española, 4 miles north on NM 68, junction with NM 74, 1 mile west on NM 74.
- Cochiti Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, celebrates St. Bonaventure, July 14.
Take I-25, 33 miles north of Albuquerque, exit 259, north 14 miles on NM 22. Call 505-465-2244 or visit pueblodecochiti.org.
- Santa Ana Pueblo celebrates the feast day of St. Anne, July 26, spokeswoman Sharon Lujan says.
To get there, take I-25, 16 miles north of Albuquerque, exit 242, northwest 10 miles on NM 44. The pueblo celebrates St. Anne’s feast day at the old pueblo, nine miles west on NM 550. For information call 505-867-3301 or visit santaana.org.
- Zia Pueblo, west of Santa Ana Pueblo, celebrates Our Lady of the Assumption on Aug. 15. “We have corn dances,” says Tammy Pino. “The public is invited.” Although festivities will start about 10 or 11 a.m., people may come earlier to get a place to park. Call 505-867-3304.
Take I-25, 16 miles north of Albuquerque, exit 242, northwest 18 miles on NM 44. There is a sign on the highway.
- Isleta Pueblo celebrates two feast days, Aug. 28 and Sept. 4, says Adele Lujan, as well as other events.
Take I-25, 12 miles south of Albuquerque, exit 213, south 2 miles on NM 314 to the junction with NM 147, 1 mile south on NM 147.
Call 505-869-3111 or visit isletapueblo.com.
- Renee Bautista at Laguna, west of Albuquerque, says the pueblo celebrates the feast day of St. Anne, July 26, at one of the older villages. Bautista says harvest dances will be featured. Award-winning filmmaker Billy Luther of the Navajo, Hopi and Laguna Pueblo tribes, made a documentary about the feast day, “Grab,” that explores the celebration and the pueblo.
Take I-40, 43 miles west of Albuquerque, exit 114 onto Route 66, also NM 124 W, go 1.3 miles, make a u-turn at Laguna Tribal Road onto Route 66, NM 124 E and go 0.1 mile. Call 552-6654 or visit lagunapueblo.org.