By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SAN FELIPE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 26, 2017) — For Christians around the world, July 25th marked the Feast of St. James. According to Catholic.org, “Nothing is known of St. James the Greater’s early life, though it has been established that he is the son of Zebedee and Salome and brother of John the disciple.
“The title ‘the Greater’ was added to St. James’ name to help distinguish him from the Apostle James ‘the Less,’ who is believed to have been shorter than James ‘the Greater.’
“Saint James the Greater was one of Jesus’ first disciples. James was fishing with his father and John the Apostle when Jesus came to the shores of the Sea of Galilee and called for the fishermen, who were unable to catch any fish that day, to dip their nets in the water once again.
“When the fishermen followed Jesus’ instructions, they found their nets full, and after emptying the fish on board, the boats nearly sank from their weight.
“Later, James was one of only three called by Jesus to witness his Transfiguration, and when he and his brother wanted to call fire upon a Samaritan town, both were rebuked by Jesus.
“Following Christ’s Ascension, James spread the Gospel across Israel and the Roman kingdom as well. He traveled and spread the Word for nearly forty years in Spain” .
Historians believe James died somewhere around 44 AD.
James the Greater is the patron saint of Spain and pilgrims. And as such is the towering figure for the popular Spanish pilgrimage Camino de Santiago, made famous by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’s 2010 Hollywood movie The Way, followed by dozens of documentaries highlighting the famous route in Spain .
There’s even an organization in the United States, New Mexico included, dedicated to the pilgrimage route . To learn about the organization, I attended a meeting several months back where a documentary was shown and conversation ensued about the pilgrimage, with various people who made the pilgrimage wearing a shell necklace. Because James was a fisherman, the shell is symbolic of his life and work, highlighting his human toil, intermixed with the spiritual fruit of his missionary activity.
People around the world celebrate St. James Day differently. In Spain, people celebrate by attending church services, watch plays, hold dances, and highlight the work of James as a missionary with art and music . In Puerto Rico, “a parade of masks carved from wood and coconuts is featured” . In other parts of the world, “Horses come forward…as protagonists during the festivities.” The Feast of Saint James is one of the most important festivals in the Islands of Majorca, Minorica, Ibiza and Formentera.
As one can surmise, the influence and incubation of Spanish culture upon the various regions around the world is strong. It’s due to the Spanish influence in New Mexico that many of the Native American tribes incorporate a celebration for St. James.
After an invitation by a friend, Phil (Isleta/San Felipe), I attended this year’s St. James Day celebration at the San Felipe Pueblo — which is open to the public.
The unique facet of San Felipe’s celebration of St. James Day is found in the distribution of free goods from the rooftops of the various homes. I watched as dozens upon dozens of people went from house to house as family members of the home tossed goods from the roof. Water bottle, coke cans, and candy were the most prevalent items. But there were also practical items: mops, cleaners, and toiletries. And every now and then some money was tossed down as well.
People stood, sat — some on horse, and rallied to gather the materials thrown. Some coke bottles hit the ground and exploded. And in some rare cases, the materials hit a person or two, but nothing too serious. Most people walked off with boxes or bags full of goods.
Back at the Pueblo home I was invited, I ate a hefty meal prepared by the family. We talked about the celebration. One elder told me that the event begins in the morning and continues throughout the day. The starting place for the celebration starts in the historic pueblo and moves out to the outlining region of the reservation, with various people walking several miles along the way—a type of pilgrimage on the reservation.
Though the reason why free goods were distributed was not clearly articulated, the thought arose that it may be from St. James’ free distribution of the Gospel of Christ.
It’s a great thought, and a marvelous celebration: a European festival that has transformed into a uniquely American commemoration, all with a wonderful Native American emphasis.
The Gospel — as proclaimed by the Church and people like James the Greater — has universal appeal, void of color, class, or nationality, incorporated throughout the world and celebrated by people inspired by Christ.
If you ask me, I wish we had more celebrations like St. James’ Day.
To learn more about open Feast Day’s at the various New Mexico Pueblo’s, click here: http://www.indianpueblo.org/19-pueblos/feast-days/
*Photography note: In honor of the San Felipe people, I did not photograph the Pueblo, the church, or the historic houses found within the heart of the Pueblo. It is against policy, and considered a thing of disrespect to photograph certain areas within the heart of the pueblo. The photograph provided is from an outlining home — off the main Pueblo, taken from the back, thereby preserving the identity of the home and people. The preservation and respect of all Pueblo cultures and traditions should be held in high esteem when visiting the various Pueblo’s in New Mexico.
Photo captions: 1) St. James the Great by El Greco. 2) San Felipe by New Mexico artist, Charles Carillo. 3) The Way movie poster. 4) San Felipe. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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