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An American Indian Christmas, Midnight Mass at Laguna Pueblo

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Native American people have found that the story of Christmas and Christ's birth fulfilled tribal prophecies. It was consistent with truths handed down by the ancestors, that the sacred hoop of peace and harmony would be restored at the end of the age. During Christmas season, the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico celebrate the birth of Jesus with a mix of Catholic Mission Christianity and the traditional religions of the people. Tribal members and non-tribal members from the neighboring communities come and participate in the mass together.

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At Old Laguna Pueblo, the Deer (or Los Matachina) Dance, the Harvest, Arrow, and other Dances are performed immediately after the midnight Christmas Eve Mass. The Laguna dances are held inside the 400-year old San José Mission Church. The pews are moved out of the right side of the church, leaving a small but adequate space on the hard-packed mud and straw floor. It is easy to imagine the setting looking much the same in 1699, the brown-robed Franciscan sitting watchfully at the side of the altar. Parishioners sit in the pews on the left side, and in the choir loft. At about 11:30 the drummers enter and the dancing begins, lasting for hours.

The dances are performed sequentially; 8-10 drummers are joined by about ten corn dancers. When the corn dance is finished, the dancers leave and the drummers then return with the buffalo dancers (two buffalo, a maiden "buffalo mother", and a hunter). After the buffalo dancers have exited, the eagle dancers, a group made up of adult men and young boys, arrive.
Upstairs in the choir loft, where the big window overlooks the front of the church, there is much excited murmuring of "Here they come!" as the group of dancers arrives – much like children waiting and watching for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

The eagle dancers at Laguna are attired in feathers and headdresses. They wear black pants and shirts, and are accompanied by young girls representing butterflies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mz6mdrxnvFQ. The young dancers--some just 8 or 9 years old, carefully execute the dance with one eye glued to the adult dancing next to him--moving his wings and head carefully to achieve the desired result.
When the songs and dance ceremonies are completed, the singers go back in the kiva and they are done for the night. The Harvest dances will continue for three more days. For information on attending this event, go to: http://www.newmexico.org/feast-days/

Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday was 12 years old when he and his parents moved to Jemez Pueblo in 1946. In his children’s book, Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story, http://www.unmpress.com/books.php?ID=1863&Page=book Momaday wrote:

“My first Christmas there was beyond my imagining. On Christmas Eve the bonfires were lighted, and sparks rose among the stars. The air was cold and crisp and scented with sweet smoke. The night sky was radiant; the silence was vast and serene. In all the years of my life I have not gone farther into the universe. I have not known better the essence of peace and the sense of eternity. I have come no closer to the understanding of the most holy.”

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