Around the world spring is a season of rebirth. As the air gets warmer and the days get longer, as buds begin to show and baby animals begin their lives on earth, our thoughts and even traditions mimic this burst of energy and renewal. In the Pueblos and all along the Rio Grande, men gather to clean out the ancient acequiasin preparation for the irrigation water that will soon fill them, flowing in rhythmic harmony into the many crops and fields that feed our valley all summer long.
In almost every New Mexico community, while the air and ground still carry a freeze that warms into pleasant afternoons, we celebrate the cycle of life with our matanazs — a tradition from Spain. During the matanza, family and friends wake up before dawn to slaughter a pig, carefully butchering it the old fashioned way and preparing every body part over an open fire during a community feast that carries on into the night.
Easter traditions in New Mexico stretch back to the first Spanish settlers
Anglo, Latino, or Indigenous, from the rivers to the mesas, we feast and give thanks for a new year as our people have always done. And then the time of Lent arrives and for many, many New Mexicans the age-old preparations for Holy Week begin, as they have for centuries reaching back to 16th century Spain and New Mexico’s first Catholic settlers. For Easter in New Mexico is more than a time of baskets and bunnies.
Thousands of pilgrims make the walk to El Santuario de Chimayo on or during Good Friday
It is the tradition of tens of thousands of people to make a pilgrimage to one of two holy sites in New Mexico on or around Good Friday – by foot and sometimes beginning days in advance from as far as 100 miles away. The first, and by far most famous site of the annual pilgrimage is El Santuario de Chimayo in northern New Mexico where it is said that the soil itself creates miracles. Though Tomé Hill with its depiction of the crosses of Calvary in central New Mexico also draws in hundreds if not thousands of the people seeking a miracle, penance, or simply a connection to Christ. Some walk to keep a promise they’ve made to God, others spend the time praying for loved ones, and others still walk for the forgiveness of their sins.
Tomé Hill draws in hundreds of the devout in the days before Easter
Regardless of the personal reasons one might have for this pilgrimage, it is a profound experience for participant and observer alike and one that is so beautifully representative of the essence of New Mexico – a land where beauty and pain have learned to live hand in hand, creating a culture seeped in passion and artistry in the most unexpected places.