by Fabiola Cabeza de Baca
(Reprinted from The Santa Fe Scene, August 9, 1958)
The word fiesta has several meanings: A religious festival; observance of a saint's day; celebration of a wedding, baptism, or special holiday.
AU Spanish villages, towns or cities, whether in New Mexico Spain, Mexico or Argentina have their fiestas; all the Indian villages celebrate the patron saint's day with a fiesta.
A fiesta day is one of happiness, gladness and enjoyment. If it is a religious one, it is also a folk festival. What do people do at a fiesta? They dress in their finery; attend church services: visit with friends and neighbors; eat good food, dance, sing and spend a day of genuine merriment.
Nothing can equal a village fiesta celebrating the patron saint's feast. On the eve of the festival, bonfires are built around the church. Vespers are sung and with every Gloria Patri, a shot is sounded outside the church. Next morning high Mass is celebrated with a sermon on the life of the honored saint. A procession carrying a statue of the patron saint follows the Mass.
Customs and traditions have changed. yet in some villages, they still have mayordomos, officials in charge of maintaining the church during the year. In most places, two and sometimes three families serve in this capacity. For the feast day of the community, the mayordomos prepare the church by cleaning and decorating it. After the feast, they turn over the keys to the ones appointed for the next year.
In preparation for the coming fiesta, the inhabitants of a village give their homes a thorough cleanup. In the days of plastering the outside of houses with mud, every home received a new coat. Neighbors gathered to help and the job was more fun than work Patios were swept until they gleamed.
For the fiesta, people come from neighboring towns and villages and they are guests of friends or relatives. If it is an Indian celebration, there will be Indian dances all day. If a Spanish feast, there may be dancing in the community hall. In the early days, there was always a local carnival, food booths, dancing and singing.
Somehow, in the experience of many people the word fiesta is associated with the Santa Fe Fiesta, the most widely known all over the country.
The fiesta in Santa Fe, while originally started to celebrate the reconquest of the Villa, it was also decreed that it honor the Holy Cross, the Patron at the time, with Vespers, Mass, sermon and procession.
The first record we have of the celebration is found in the Spanish Archives of New Mexico; Archive 179, Sept. 16, 1712. It reads: "Order obliging the citizens of Santa Fe to celebrate henceforth the 14th day of Sept. of each year as the anniversary of the re-conquest of the said Villa by Diego de Vargas."
The first group of men met in 1712 to make plans for the annual celebration. This may be called the first Fiesta Council. Records do not show that the celebration continued.
R. R. Twitchell in his book, "Old Santa Fe," tells of a great celebration which took place in Santa Fe in 1882. "During the latter part of 1882, the citizens of Santa Fe organized and promoted an exposition, called the Tertio Millenial, celebrating the 333rd anniversary of the advent of the Europeans upon New Mexican soil. Almost an entire year was given over to preparing for the great event, which opened its gates on July 2, 1883, to an immense throng of New Mexicans and other points far and near." The description of the Exposition says it lasted 30 days.
On the second day of the celebration, the de Vargas pageant took place. Don Roman Baca took the part of Gen. de Vargas. "Surrounded by royal retinue and followed by Franciscans , Indians, soldiers, types of people in the habiliments of the 18th century, there were 12 divisions of the pageant exemplifying the modes of living, commerce, transportation, agriculture and pastoral activities of 200 years previous."
The 1958 Santa Fe Fiesta is to be announced as the 246th. It will be 246 years since the first fiesta was ordered.
My recollection of the event dates back to 1929, when I came to work in Santa Fe County as home demonstration agent. At that time it was a folk festival as well as religious and followed the pattern as described in the 1883 pageant.
The farmers from the villages came in wagons filled with produce from their gardens and orchards. The wagons lined up along the Alameda and people went there to buy fresh vegetables and fruits. It was also a County Fair and prizes were awarded to the different products such as is done in any agricultural Fair.
La Union Protectiva (men's and women's organizations) had charge of entertainment and they really put on a show. Local violinists and guitarists furnished me music; the Santa Fe band played; there was singing of folk songs, dancing in the streets - and merrymaking for all. It was the people's fiesta and really Spanish. But one did not need to be Spanish to enjoy it and everybody joined in the gaiety. There was food in abundance around the plaza and side streets.
The Hysterical Parade of that day has never been duplicated. It took persons like Joe and Annie Berardinelli, Mrs. Americo Digneo, Mrs. Manuel Sanchez, and many others to produce real hysteria in their personifications.
The de Vargas parade has not changed and it is one of the features of the fiesta which remains genuine. The Pontifical Mass and the procession to the Cross of the Martyrs have been added and they have brought back the religious theme.
The Sociedad Folklorica, whose aim is to preserve Spanish culture, traditions and folklore, started the merienda and the showing of colonial fashions. This is a popular feature of the fiesta and it draws hundreds of spectators every year.
Until about ten years ago, there were held in the patio of the Art Museum exhibits of Spanish colonial arts. It was through the efforts of Mary Austin that these were put on, and long after she was gone they continued.
Santa Fe has changed; it has grown but as long as it can put on las fiestas Don Diego de Vargas, Marquez de la Nava Brazinas, will rest in peace.