Christmas at Kuaua – Lighting Up Pueblo Ruins of The Past

An Evening at Coronado Historic Site

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A view across the Pueblo

I love experiencing cultural traditions! Living in my new New Mexico home, I am getting out and experiencing everything.  High on the list, December light displays!  Scouring the internet, I found “Christmas in Kuaua” at the Coronado Historical Site in Bernalillo, New Mexico.  The Coronado Historic Site is home of the Kuaua Pueblo ruins.  

A very traditional New Mexico display, glowing luminaries began when Spanish merchants came to “New Spain” for the Christmas season. Admiring the Chinese paper lanterns, the merchants decided to start their own tradition. Rather than using thin paper, brown paper bags became their ‘luminaira’ of choice.  A lit candle sits in sand on the bottom of the brown paper bags creating their inviting glow.  

Let my first luminary experience begin!

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Called luminaries in the south or farolitos in northern New Mexico. I just call them beautiful!!

During Coronado’s search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, he came across 12 villages of Tiwa speaking native farmers.  Kuaua, the northernmost village, means ‘evergreen’.  First settled around 1325 AD, it was home to 12,000 inhabitants when Coronado arrived.  

Coronado visited all 12 villages during the next two years.  Trading for food and supplies with the native farmers kept Coronado and his men alive.  In less than a century of the meeting, the pueblo was abandoned.  Today, the descendants of these Tiwa people live in the villages of Taos, Islet, Picuris and Sandia in New Mexico.

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The evening bonfire

In the center of the ruins, luminaries lead the way to the roaring bonfire.  Escaping the freezing temps, many people kept close to the fire.  Traditional indian dances by The Zia Slam Dancers were the evening’s entertainment. Three generations of pueblo dancers share their traditional dances with visitors.  

I grabbed a good spot to take photos of the dancing. I was ready!  However, several tall young men decided they liked the spot 6 inches in front of me.  I didn’t think I could win in a fight, so I reluctantly went exploring other areas. 😉

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Traditional Christmas Carols fill the night air

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Historic kiva

Excavations by archeologists from the Museum of New Mexico began in the 1930’s.  They discovered a square-shaped kiva, ceremonial place, in the central plaza.  Upon excavation, they found the walls covered in 65 different layers of mud.  On 17 of the layers, they uncovered amazing pre-contact murals in the United States.  Fifteen of the preserved murals are available to view in the Kuaua Mural Hall at the site.  Due to their historic significance, no photos are not permitted in the Mural Hall.   

Each mural tells its own story.  Depicting rain and crop symbols, they illustrate life as farmers.  It’s hard to imagine the painstaking work it took to separate them from between all the layers of mud.  In the Hall, docents are eager to answer your questions. 

The fascinating history coupled with the beautiful luminaries creates an exciting event for the entire family.

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Coronado Tourist Center and Kuaua Mural Hall

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Glowing on the historic walls

Don’t miss visiting the pueblo ruins during the day!  

They offer daily guided walking tours, which include a trip down the wooden ladder into the kiva.  Photos of the reproduced murals in the kiva is permitted. Check their official website for hours and fees.

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The Zia – New Mexico’s state symbol

Where is your favorite lighted display?  Did you visit any new ones this year?

kuaua; coranado; historic; site; christmas; bonfire; luminaries; new mexico; pueblo; indian; culture; night

Nancie Lee

Nancie Lee is a freelance photographer and inspired writer with an insatiable desire to explore the world. Her website, Aperture Of My Soul combines her love for photography with her love of travel. Engaging others to pursue their greatest authentic life, she inspires them to "adventure boldly on their journey".

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