This week of Christmas/New Year I want to honor a friend who is undergoing an unfortunate decline in health and who is often in my mind. I visited her one Christmas week several years ago and the shared experience of celebrating Christmas and New Year in New Mexico remains memorable.
She lived in Las Placitas, a newer development on a mesa between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We walked every morning across the mesa. The rimy frost was still frozen under the shaded scrubby bushes. Sunlight splashed on the semi-desert plants and we observed the occasional hawk and hare. Her dog ran free returning to check on us, tongue lolling, fur flying. The crystalline blue dome, a huge sky, reminded me of the high veld in South Africa where I was born. Johannesburg, like Las Placitas is situated at six and half thousand feet. Indeed, with déjà vu a constant presence, I could have been anywhere on the high veld. Big Sky panoramas; powerful all encompassing feeling.
A mutual friend invited us to celebrate Christmas Eve in the nearby old village of Placitas. (See below.) She was carefully restoring a centuries old adobe house into an ecologically sustainable building. Her vegetarian meal made from produce she grew in her garden, delectable.
After dinner, at the appointed hour, we joined the throng of villagers (and some tourists) to walk around the unpaved streets of the village, singing carols at almost every house, a time-honored tradition, until we arrived at the house that served as the inn in the Christmas story. Each year a different home is chosen and a tightly kept secret among the village leaders. There we were invited to a feast around a diorama of the nativity.
But what I remember vividly are the faralitos or luminarias, brown paper bags anchored by a layer of sand into which candles are set to form striking paper lanterns. These line the adobe roof lines and village roads and paths.
Images from Wikipedia
On New Year’s Day we visited a nearby pueblo. The villagers performed a reindeer/yak/buffalo dance, and I could swear I was back in Nepal or northern India witnessing Buddhist festivities with dancers in giant masks and beaded costumes. The drumbeat soon became mesmerizing echoing the steady metronome of my heart. It was difficult to take our leave.
The land bridge from eastern Siberia across the Bering Straits to the New World was suddenly real; in millennia past people made this crossing with some semblance of these dances and these rituals. Buddhists believe that a vortex of spiritual energy runs from Mt. Kailash in Tibet through our planet and emerges at a sacred mountain near Sedona, Arizona, emanating spiritual energy from east to west.
So, my friend, as you proceed on your crossing, the spiritual energy you emanate pulses through all the lives you touched and still touch in your remarkable life’s journey. I am grateful to know you.
History of Placitas
“When Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821, Mexican authorities advised the settlers to move their families down to their relatives in the Pueblos and villages of the Rio Grande Valley because there was no protection from raiding tribes. By the late 1830s the raiding had subsided and the settlers returned. There were greater numbers and many new areas within the Land Grant were opened up to accommodate the growing families. Around 1840 the present Village of Placitas was established with its own spring-fed acequia system which still supplies irrigation and domestic water to the Village. Here, arroyos were filled in and sloping land was terraced to provide new fields to cultivate. Springs as far away as Tunnel Springs were accessed for Village area irrigation.
“Placitas has flourished; during the 1960’s and 1970’s it was popular among the counter-culture movement in New Mexico, and now it thrives with more upscale residents seeking a scenic non-urban setting close to Albuquerque. Placitas is still home to descendants of the land grant who continue to respect the land, water and culture of the area.”
Place Names of New Mexico by Bob Julyan
A Brief History of the San Antonio de Las Huertas Land Grant by Tony Lucero, President of the Land Grant
The above quote from newmexicohistory.org