Participants in the Fiestas de San Lorenzo dances endure immense heat inside their large costumes as a way of keeping a personal promise to the saint. It takes many years of practice and dedication to be a participant in these dances. Stephen Montoya photo.

BERNALILLO — It’s just past 6:30 on a stormy Friday evening as the participants in an over-300-year-old-tradition prepare to practice seven dances in honor of St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo).
The street where the practice is taking place is flooded on both sides. It looks bleak for a moment as the participants begin driving in.
Everyone stops to assess possible solutions to the large puddles on the street. Just then, a pump truck arrives from the Town of Bernalillo’s Public Works Department to help clear the puddles that threaten to stop the practice.
Almost 30 minutes later, after many of the dancers and participants begin to file out of Epifanio and Sylvia Gallegos’s home, the street has been transformed into a usable space.
“This is the type of community we have,” said Mike Kloeppel, economic and community development director for the Town of Bernalillo. “I have been involved with these dances since I was a teenager, and I can tell you it takes a lot of hard work, but it’s something we feel as a community is very important.”
This notion was put to the test last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatened to break one of Sandoval County’s oldest traditions. But just like the community came together to clear the puddles, the Fiestas de San Lorenzo still took place via a livestream on social media in 2020.
“It’s a good feeling to know that through all of the turmoil and sicknesses and despair that we’ve had, it’s good to see that we can get together and celebrate things that we’ve been doing for so many years,” Kloeppel said. “It’s good to know that hopefully we are turning a corner to get back to some kind of normalcy.”
The normalcy Kloeppel is referring to dates back 328 years in the town of Bernalillo.
History indicates that the roots to the Fiestas de San Lorenzo can be traced back to Spain, where San Lorenzo was one of seven deacons for the Catholic Church in the third century.
Kloeppel said San Lorenzo was burned to death on a gridiron by a prefect of Rome for distributing alms to the poor instead of Rome. Legend has it that after San Lorenzo had been burning on the gridiron for a while, when he told his tormentors “I’m well done on this side; turn me over.”
“Because he was martyred and the patron saint of the poor and the sick, the townspeople here took a liking to that,” Kloeppel said. “It is for this reason that many of the participants in the fiestas pray to San Lorenzo for his help as an intermediary to God to help get their prayers heard.”
According to Kloeppel, many of the participants dance in part to fulfill a promise they have made to San Lorenzo.
“If you have made a promesa to San Lorenzo, it is between you and him,” Kloeppel said. “It’s not something you talk about with others.”
Preparation for the dances begin in July, but Kloeppel explained that it is yearlong event.
“Every tenth of the month, we go to the mayordomos (hosts) and say a novena (Rosary prayer) in preparation for the Aug. 10 festivities,” he said. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation that most people outside of this don’t ever see or know.”
Kloeppel said this is an ongoing tradition for many families in the area as a way to continue their promise to St. Lawrence.