In Northern New Mexico, being named "Manuel" is an honor and a privilege.
Manuel Montoya, assistant professor, Anderson School of Management, is from Mora, N.M. He was the cool kid in high school because he got to throw a party on New Year's Eve, but with it came the responsibility of a Northern New Mexico tradition, Los Manueles.
The name "Manuel" comes from Emmanuel, meaning "God is with us." Montoya said there's an implied "in a time of need."
"Los Manueles, and other traditions, were about keeping the flame of faith alive. It was recognition of a relationship with God that sometimes existed outside the church and of stewardship of faith outside the political authority of the church," he said.
People came to visit, he said. "I was afforded a level of trust. How many kids are encouraged to party on New Year's? Family, community members came and knocked on the door, sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning. I was required to give food, provide hospitality," he said. "There was an all night, and into the morning, ebb and flow."
When people came to the door, "Ellos piden gracias a los Manueles" – they ask for a blessing from the Manuels. "Some sing the traditional songs, others are less formal," Montoya said.
"My grandma and uncle started making the 50-60 dozen tamales at Thanksgiving. It took three weeks to make them all.'" He said it was a chance to have friends over and play games, but the tradition has deeper roots than fun and games.
Montoya said that his great grandfather was also a Manuel. He has a Tía Manuela, too. "My uncle told me that in the old days the hermandad (brotherhood) was there for the church and they came around to deliver the sacrament if there was no priest."
The Blessed Sacrament was passed from house to house. "They brought a statue of the Virgin Mary, for the assumption. They rang in the New Year, traveling the posada and saying the rosary. In those days, coins, oranges, plums and apples were handed out to the people," he said.
Montoya conjectured that the tradition was a "manifestation of a people with no ecclesiastical authority." He said, "There were no priests, no nuns. The hermanos, the penitentes, created a religious solidarity out of circumstance."
Montoya, who has researched many aspects of Northern New Mexico life and customs, said that the Spanish spoken and sung up north is infused with an Arabic inflection. "After hearing the dawn Islamic prayers I returned to Mora and listened to people pray the rosary. I heard the upward inflection in the ‘bendita tu,'" he said. Several versions of the rosary are prayed in the north, different than the Franciscan rosary. There are many nuances to these traditions, he said, far more than are commonly appreciated.
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- Inside UNM