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No Fiesta for Santa Fe

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Jose Gonazales, center, as Diego de Vargas with his troops in the 1962 Fiesta de Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe Fiesta Council just announced the cancellation of the Fiesta de Santa Fe. The news wasn’t a shock to the community. It was yet another setback following a cascade of events that have been called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the void of the end-of-summer community event is of great loss for locals. The Fiesta de Santa Fe is intrinsic to our nation’s history as being the oldest continuous community celebration in the country. The three day celebration also highlights the religious foundation of three centuries of Catholicism.

Roots of the Fiesta de Santa Fe

The Fiesta began after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After years of oppression under Spanish rule, the surrounding Pueblos successfully drove the Spanish colonists out of New Mexico. The mastermind of the revolt was Po’pay, a medicine man from Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan) Pueblo who served the Tewa people. For the next twelve years the colonists lived in El Paso del Norte, which is now a part of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas. Diego de Vargas reclaimed New Mexico for the Spanish Crown in 1692. When he died in 1712, Don Juan Páez Hurtado, who had served as his lieutenant governor, drafted a resolution that a fiesta was to be held each year in commemoration of de Vargas and La Conquistadora. The oldest Madonna in the U.S., La Conquistadora returned to Santa Fe with de Vargas.

Evolution of a Celebration

As a U.S. Territory, in 1848 the Anglo population grew and the Fiesta was gradually transformed. In July 1883, Santa Fe hosted the Tertio-Millennial and the Fiesta was combined with the Fourth of July. This was most likely the first time that Native Americans participated in a community celebration, and it led to subsequent Fiesta events. In 1926 artist Will Shuster created Zozobra, the oversized puppet that was burned as a means of banishing gloom. Amalia Sena Sánchez became Santa Fe’s first Fiesta Queen in 1927. Since the 1920s, the Fiesta de Santa Fe has evolved into a collective synergy with its origin as a religious foundation intact.

Deja Vu for the Fiesta de Santa Fe

The Santa Fe Fiesta has the distinction of being the oldest continuous community celebration in this country but it did experience a setback. From 1913 through 1918 the event was cancelled because of World War I. A century later the community celebration is faced once again with adversity. Organizers had to put a stop to the event in the hopes of quelling the spread of the virus. If history has taught us anything it’s that this time of hardship and uncertainty will pass. As a city and as a nation we will survive this moment in our lives and find reason to give thanks and to celebrate. It happened in 1712 with the creation of the Fiesta de Santa Fe. Next year the event will be back more vibrant than ever before.