In the spirt of a history that forms an arc from ancient troubadours to modern day slam poets, in my own natal villages of Amalia, Costilla, Cerro and Questa, one of the most beautiful traditions is that of ‘Dando Los Dias,’ which I translate to ‘gifting the blessing upon the day — the day of days.’
In this tradition, musicians and poets travel from home to hom serenading families. They begin striking up the music at the thresholds of each home and when invited in continue to use music and verse welcoming the new year.
I believe that the most meaningful and profound part of the experience is when the ‘versistas’ (poets) invite others to respond in verse.
I come from a place of poets. Indeed, I was raised by a wonderful versista (poet), my mom who first taught me how to put words together and use them to raise consciousness, to celebrate creativity and to fortify her community.
Some versistas now may playfully request compensation (el de la maleta) but traditionally, the compensation is the warmth of the homes, where the recipients usually have prepared a feast of traditional foods of the season: posole, empanaditas, biscochitos and maybe a shot of whiské. The versistas of my communities have been collecting, but donate the collection to families in need in the community.
In the 1990s, I was a student at UCBerkeley, studying the oral tradition of indigenous and Latino people. While this tradition had ebbed and flowed over the years, many believed it was on its last breath. I asked my mother and one of her other great poets of the villlage (Doña Candelaria Torres) if we could go ‘Dando Los Dias’ that year and of course, their eyes lit up and we were off. Over the past three decades this creativity in tradition has only blossomed.
Happy New Year everyone, and may the songs and poetry that bestowed the gift and blessing upon the day of days foreshadow a year of fortifying creativity, consciousness and community.