The Jemez Historic Site

Light in ancient shadows

The annual “Light among the Ruins” event returns to the Jemez Historic Site on December 8th and 9th. The historic site is decorated with small lanterns or farolitos, a traditional New Mexican holiday tradition.

The event has a new name this year with historical significance. Organizers renamed the event, “Light among Gisewa” to honor the ancestral name of the 700-year-old Jemez Pueblo village. “Gisewa” is a Towa word that means “place at boiling water” because the pueblo is located near the thermal springs.

“We use multiple definitions of that word like village by the sulfur which refers to the Sulfur Springs in the canyon, “says Marlon Magdalena instructional coordinator for the Jemez Historic Site.

For two magical nights, visitors can experience hundreds of glowing farolitos at the ruins of Gisewa Pueblo and the San José de los Jemez Mission. Visiting the historical site after dark is a rare occurrence. The site is typically open to visitors only during the day.

Elisabeth A. Stone, the regional manager of Jemez and Coronado Historic Sites says,” It’s a great family-friendly event and a really beautiful event to bring people together from all over.” Stone says,” This is a unique time to see it at night and get into the mountains when it’s dark. It’s a really unique, peaceful, event to come watch.” She says many people call the event magical.

The ceremony will feature Native American dancers performing between bonfires. Magdalena says, “To stand around the bonfires and see the dancers dance, hear the songs and sounds from dancers and singers is really beautiful. In the winter, the traditional Native animal dances celebrate and honor animals that were used in our lives and they honor the hunts like the Buffalo dance.” 

Magdalena has been working the event since 2005. “I’ve seen it grow to such a large event.” In the 1990’s it was informal and started with a horse-drawn wagon and small gathering. The event began as a traditional way to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Magdalena says, “The significance goes back to the story of Christianity,” with travelers journeying to their final destination with a fire burning to light the way.

The event will have timed entry tickets to enter the site every half hour but organizers say “Stay as long as you want and enjoy the farolitos.” Tickets include parking in the Jemez village. Shuttles throughout Jemez Springs will take guests to the historic site. 

The winter event will feature indigenous artists selling arts and crafts. Pueblo vendors will also be selling food and drinks.

The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, December 8th, and Saturday, December 9th.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children 16 and under. Visit www.nmculture.org/traditions  

“It’s a marker of New Mexico…the light in the darkness. Finding light in the winter is important and we want to celebrate in a variety of ways,” says Marlon Magdalena instructional coordinator for the Jemez Historic site.

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