San Luis celebrates old fashioned Hispanic Christmas
VALLEY — Mis Oremos and Mis Crismas are holiday traditions that are unique to the villages of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. In the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, the Culebra Villages outside of San Luis have carried on these cultural traditions. For the second year in a row San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, is bringing this tradition back into their community.
Richard de Olivas y Cordova, active member of the governance team for Adelante San Luis who leads the revitalization of Manito Culture, explained, “The town of San Luis is reviving this tradition as a way for families to come together and celebrate heritage and community.”
Although, not held on the traditional date of Christmas Eve (this year’s gather took place this past Saturday), it is still just as powerful a bringing together people.
“A family from Texas was passing through town and saw the large gathering of people outside the town hall. They stopped and asked about what was going on and were just amazed because they had never seen anything like it. We invited them to join and they did, they had a great time, and we hope more people feel welcome to come experience this tradition with us next year.”
“Costilla County Prevention Partners (CCPP) brought students down to be a part of the celebration that had never experienced this tradition. They were just so excited and had so much fun learning and participating in this cultural experience. The resident team of volunteers worked very hard planning and leading this event,” said Jessica-Ortega-Dugan, coordinator of Adelante San Luis.
“This was a great success and partnership for our second annual Mis Crismas Celebration between Adelante San Luis, CCPP, the Town of San Luis and Social Services.”
It begins in each village with the lighting of one luminaria (bonfire) on Dec 16th. On the 17th two luminarias are lit. On the 18th three, so that on the 24th there will be 9 luminarias in each village. On the evening of the 24th, Christmas Eve, a few of the older teenagers don masks and costumes as not to be recognized. They are called abuelos (grandfathers). They make the younger kids sing, march in formation, etcetera — all to the beat of a chicote (a horse whip) around the bonfires. Finally the whole group goes to the homes of their neighbors in the villages to ask for Oremos. In front of the homes the farolitos (candles in bags) are lit. At each door the children, guided by the abuelos, recite this poem:
“Oremos, oremos Angelitos semos.
Del cielo venemos a pedir oremos.
Si no nos dan oremos
Puertas y ventanas quebraremos.”
“We pray, we pray. We are little angels.
From heaven we come to ask for oremos.
If you do not give us oremos,
Doors and windows will be broken.”
Traditionally, on Christmas day, a similar event of going house to house followed, called Mis Crismas.
Rita Martinez of San Luis remembers the tradition from her childhood fondly. “It is a little bit like Halloween. We would put on tons of clothes and gloves to walk through piles and piles of snow on Christmas Eve saying Oremos at each house and collecting goodies like empanaditas, biscochitos and candies. Then again Christmas morning we would bundle up again. All the neighborhood kids would all wait outside excitedly for the kids to gather and we would go house to house together saying “Mis Crismas” in place of Oremos. The neighbors all wanted to be the house that had the best goodies and would fill our pillowcases to the top. We would do this all morning, playing in the snow along the way, making snow angels and having so much fun. When we got home, Christmas dinner was ready.”
These festivities are held around Christmas time and relate to Christian tradition, but parts are reminiscent of Judaism and of the Matachina dancers. Richard explains, “The luminarias are lit, increasing by one fire a day, similar to the lighting of the candles on Hanukkah. It is possible this was a way that people could have secretly celebrated Judaism in this area, without being questioned, since they tied it into Christmas tradition. Occasionally the lighting of the luminarias corresponds exactly to the nights of Hanukkah.”
The Matachina dancers were originally brought over from Spain. The music and dance depicts the coming together of the Christians and the Moores. The Spanish showed the Native Americans this dance and they adapted it to celebrate the coming together they were similarly experiencing. Costumes and masks were worn and the abuelos used a chicote whip to keep time to the music.
“I think it is interesting that the traditional Matachinas have died away. They used to dance and celebrate every Christmas when I was young. Now you can only find them in a few places like Bernadillo, NM. The Abuelos of Oremos is one way that we have kept the connection to that part of our history.”
For more information on the traditions within the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area visit www.sdcnha.org
Caption: Volunteers from Adelante San Luis, the Town of San Luis and Community Prevention Partners of Costilla County gather to share an old fashioned Christmas./Courtesy photo