Santa Fe has a lot of unique Christmas traditions. Some, including the annual Las Posadas (Spanish for “The Inns”), are tied to the city’s strong Spanish Catholic heritage. Las Posadas is a reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem and their search for a room at an inn.
The event, always on a December Sunday evening, will be held this year on Sunday, Dec. 14, starting at 5:30 p.m. This weekend in Santa Fe always kicks off on Friday night with the beloved Christmas at the Palace.
Las Posadas takes place in the historic Santa Fe Plaza. The holy couple, accompanied by an entourage, assemble on Washington Avenue at the side of the Palace of the Governors, the oldest public building in continuous use in the USA.
The Las Posadas procession, as it turns from San Francisco Street onto Lincoln Avenue — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
The historic square is filled with people who have come to witness this quest. Candles are given out to help light the couple’s way. The candlelight procession grows, and anyone is welcome to join as it wends around the Plaza, people singing as they go.
On each of the four sides, Joseph and Mary will ask if there’s a place for them to stay. At each stop, there’s an unexpected flash of light and the devil appears. He gestures menacingly at the couple and their followers while screaming at them a centuries’ old Spanish dialect no longer used. The crowd boos.
This is repeated at each stop until they complete the circuit at the Palace of the Governors on the north side. Here, an angel appears and the couple is welcomed. They are led into the courtyard and the crowd accompanies them. Luminarias (small piñon wood bonfires) crackle and farolitos (paper bags filled with sand and topped with a candle) burn. Both are traditionally used each Christmas to light the way for the holy couple.
Hot cider and biscochitos (the New Mexico State Cookie) are served to the chilled crowd. The night air rings with voices joined in traditional Spanish Christmas carols.
One of the devils, in front of the Palace of the Governors — Photo courtesy of Steve Collins
Las Posadas celebrates a tradition that came to the New World from Spain. You’ll find it commemorated in Mexico and other places in Latin America. Usually done as a novena, a nine-night celebration, it represents the time Jesus was in the womb.
Traditionally, it begins on Dec. 16 and continues until Noche Buena ("Holy Night"), the night we call Christmas Eve. Each night, the holy couple visit and are refused by several “inns” until one takes them in. Singing and celebrating ensue.
In Santa Fe, the celebration is condensed to a single evening. The current tradition began in the city’s San Antonio neighborhood (Acequia Madre, near Paseo de Peralta) in the early 1970s. In the ‘80s, it was relocated to the historic Santa Fe Plaza.
Local lore says that the first Joseph was a local attorney. He got the part because he owned the donkey. Coincidentally, he was Jewish, as was the original. Today, the donkey is gone, but the tradition continues.
If you’re in Santa Fe when Las Posadas takes place, don your warmest clothing, including a warm hat and gloves, and join the crowd. It will be a candlelit evening you will long remember.