When I was a kid, we would come up to Taos Pueblo to spend Christmas at my grandfather's house. In those days we lived in Albuquerque where a winter snow was rare. But as we'd drive onto the rez there was almost always snow on the ground, the air was crisp and filled with the scent of piñon from woodstoves and fireplaces. It literally felt like a completely different place and time.
My grandfather, Toribio Gomez, lived a short distance north of the Pueblo. His little adobe house was always nice and warm. He would have a tiny little piñon Christmas tree set up in a corner with only a few ornaments or maybe some tinsel, and under it was a few wrapped presents. Outside, my dad would be chopping wood. My mom and sister would busy themselves with Christmas Eve preparations.
Right before sundown, my folks would drive to the village. My brother Ron and I would opt to walk. I used to love that walk, feeling the crunch of snow under my city shoes as we approached the village, which we could see through the trees. Closer, the first smoke from bonfires would start to darken the sky, its inky tendrils rising to create a scene that might feel ancient or medieval to some. But, this was more, and the smoke was a symbol, not just of an ancient calling all to attend Christ's birth but to something deep inside.
In the village, there was the crowd, much like it will be at this year's occasion. The people all seem to have the same glowing expression. Suddenly, the gunfire makes everyone jump. It is the beginning of the Procession of the Virgin. Tribal men carry hunting rifles at the head of the procession, shooting them into the air every once in a while. And, the procession continues.
Things change all the time, even here. The place looks different. My grandpa is gone. So are my mom and dad. But here, tradition is important and is respected as it should. But, it's not easy. Challenges are everywhere and they are getting harder and harder to overcome. But, somehow at this time of year, that pull in our hearts continues to draw us home. Every year at Christmas. Just like when we were kids.