" Hispanic influence characterizes much of the cultural and historic landscapes throughout the Southwest."
Dec 15, 2020 at 6:25 AM in Explore
Part Three: Honoring Hispanic People
In the Map Geek’s last blog, Diversity in Discovery Map Destinations: Honoring Native Americans, the post ended with highlighting the rich Native American culture that’s still very much alive today in New Mexico. So this seems like a good place to start for this story.
New Mexico enchants visitors and locals alike with a wonderful mix of Anglo, Native American and Hispanic influences. The origins for the latter date as far back as centuries ago when the first Spanish and Mexican people began to leave their imprint on this sun-drenched land. Explorers and missionaries from Spain and then settlers from Mexico have shaped the culture, traditions, art, architecture, food and more of the New Mexico of today, making it a colorful land that’s especially festive during the holidays. Our two Discovery Map destinations, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, offer holiday card-worthy scenes at every turn, particularly within the town centers referred to as Old Town. Here, adobe buildings, trimmed in luminarias, light up the night’s sky like twinkling lights on a Christmas tree. Also known as farolitos, the most authentic versions of these little lanterns consist of hand-folded paper bags filled with sand and a single votive candle. More modern versions replicate this homespun look in electric lights that illuminate structures for weeks on end during the holiday season. At their origin, these luminarias were used to light the path to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Today they cast a glorious glow on and around all kinds of buildings–including private homes and along many walkways–during the holiday season.
What would the holidays be without Christmas red? You see plenty of it throughout New Mexico in the form of ristras, the deep red chiles strung up and hung all over as decorations during the holiday season and often way into the new year.
This leads us to the most flavorful foods of New Mexico, many of which are especially celebrated during the holidays. Savory tamales and posole help warm the soul on a cold winter’s night. Red and green chili stews are favorites year round but particularly during the “red and green season.” Did you know that if you order enchiladas and you’re asked what kind of sauce you want on them, you can say Christmas? That’s a combination of red and green chili. Go ahead and say that (year round) and you’ll sound like you’re really in the know. Be careful though because the red chili can be quite spicy.
In addition to great restaurants and eateries, both Santa Fe and Albuquerque are known for their wonderful boutiques, galleries and museums. For a good overview of the Hispano art, culture and traditions of Northern New Mexico, go to El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. They feature a rich permanent collection, temporary exhibits and events. (The latter has been hindered due to COVID-19 restrictions but hopefully they will be back to being a vibrant cultural center of Hispanic heritage soon.)
Of course Hispanic influence characterizes much of the cultural and historic landscapes throughout the Southwest. From Arizona to New Mexico and then onto much of the great state of Texas, you can delight in Mexican food–and tasty margaritas–against a backdrop of Hispanic architecture and tradition. (Thankfully this is also the case in many other parts of the United States as well.) In Texas, El Paso stands out as an especially rich bastion of Hispanic culture. Its proximity to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico makes this vibrant city almost as Mexican as American. Plus, as the second largest city in the Southwest (after Phoenix), it’s a bustling cosmopolitan center that constitutes the largest bilingual and binational workforce in the western hemisphere. So that means that here you live, breathe and eat Hispanic culture in its many forms.
Being largely devout people, Christmas traditions among Hispanics reign supreme. In El Paso, this means a Christmas Fair where you can shop for all kinds of arts and crafts and a WinterFest that even boasts an outdoor ice skating rink. They, too, decorate many of their homes and buildings with luminarias in addition to installing more than a hundred trees illuminated with hundreds of thousands of lights at their historic San Jacinto Plaza, the epicenter of activities in El Paso year round. Tamales are also an important part of holiday traditions; whether you gather with loved ones to spend a whole day making them or pick up some at food shops, this traditional corn-husked Mexican comfort food makes for a savory meal all year long. Lover’s of sweets must try the Rosca de Reyes, also known as king’s cake. This wreath-shaped bread flavored with candied fruits comes with a tiny figurine in the shape of a baby (Jesus) baked inside of it. Be careful when you bite into it!
For more on the wonderful traditions of an El Paso Christmas, go to Visit El Paso.
St. Augustine, Florida is also imbued with a terrific Spanish heritage. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers long before Jamestown or the Plymouth Colony, today St. Augustine is prized for its Old World charm and Spanish Colonial architecture. That provides a fairy tale-like scene year round and most especially during the holidays when most of their historic buildings are festooned with lights bright enough to bring home many a lost mariner. Perhaps best known for their Nights of Lights, this historic city is bedecked in millions of twinkling lights from mid November through the end of January. A variety of tours and events typically take place during this festive time although note that current COVID precautions have reduced the happenings this year. Lovers of history and old stones will be enamored year round by St. Augustine’s architecture even in broad daylight without the magic of special illumination. When here, be sure to take in the Castillo de San Marcos, a seventeenth-century Spanish fortress made of stone that surveys the St. Augustine Inlet. Translation: very nice views all around.
Many Las Posadas celebrations take place within Hispanic communities and in Mexico throughout the holiday period. This year these events, which commemorate the Christmas story, have been curtailed, however, they are sure to return in force next year. Posada means inn, and these depictions – in a variety of forms – of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay where Jesus could be born are full of pageantry and color and definitely worth viewing.
This offers a great segue to Mexico, a country that’s all about Hispanic culture! The Discovery Map of Cozumel will penetrate your senses with all of the many traditions of Mexican culture, food and drink. Many travel there during the holidays, mostly to have a wonderful escape in the sun and to enjoy fabulous beaches and lovely resorts.
Puerto Rico ranks as another favorite beach getaway within a short flight from the mainland. Latino culture is especially exuberant in this Caribbean island paradise known for its beaches, mountains, tropical rain forests and colorful Spanish Colonial buildings. You’ll find a lot of the latter in Old San Juan, the most historic part of the island and also the capital of PR; you can bet they’re done up merrily during the holidays.
Since the people of Puerto Rico love to party, it should come as no surprise that PR claims to have the longest holiday season in the world. Beginning in mid November and lasting through mid January, la Navidad features many traditions that create a sunny ambiance in a land that’s already blessed with lots of beautiful weather.
Music in the form of Parrandas creates a lively scene during this festive time. These traditional carnival-like street parties have existed since the nineteenth century. Depending on the area and circumstances (especially in times of COVID), they appear in various ways; sometimes they can be as quaint as having carolers (of sorts) appearing at the door of a home or business, and at other times, they’re more boisterous. Parrandas are particularly prevalent on Christmas Eve, the biggest night of the holiday season in Puerto Rico. And although there’s no snow (unless it’s artificial), Puerto Ricans are big on Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. Special foods also stand out on the menu, including arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and pasteles, their own version of tamales made with green bananas and meat. Go to Discover Puerto Rico to find out more about what’s happening in PR during this special time of the year. Discovery Map is proud of their three destinations in Puerto Rico: San Juan, Vieques and Culebra.
The Map Geek and Discovery Map wish you a very happy, healthy and safe holiday season!