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Music – “Christmas in New Mexico” from Christmas in New Mexico by Jerry Dean. Released: 2013
(This is a partial re-post from 2013 with some great additions!)
Christmas in New Mexico
December, 1994 was my first Christmas in my new home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although our neighbourhood and surrounding neighbourhoods had the usual strings of Christmas lights, Santa Clauses and snowmen cutouts and the like, I was surprised to find that many residential areas, businesses, city buildings, hotels, etc., put out thousands of “luminarias” on Christmas Eve. There were so many of them, especially in neighbourhoods around what is called Old Town, the city started running Luminaria Tours.
In 2004, my husband and I took my Mom, who had moved here in 2003, on one of the tours and it was incredible. As far as the eye could see, thousands of luminarias lining sidewalks, on rooftops and parapets, in parks and plazas, around and on top of churches: they were everywhere. It was pretty awesome and looked like a fairyland. Christmas in New Mexico is a candle sellers dream!
Some people refer to them as ‘farolitos’ (little lanterns), but they are one in the same. In northern New Mexico, the farolito is the bag with the candle inside, but in the southern part of the state, the same thing is called a luminaria.
True luminarias are a New Mexico tradition and are small (sandwich size) paper bags, filled with a couple of inches of sand. The top of the bag is folded over a bit for stability and a single white votive candle is placed inside. When lit, the golden glow lights up the dark night in a quiet and peaceful way. That first year, I wanted luminarias for our yard, to experience the tradition.
Early in November, you could drive around Albuquerque and see signs posted for purchasing luminarias by the dozen (filled and candle included), from church groups, charitable organizations, youth groups and just about everyone else.
I purchased 6 dozen of them, which were delivered the week before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, 1994, my husband and I placed them around our yard, lining the sidewalk and garden and patiently lit them, one by one. Fortunately, it was not windy, which can sometimes be a problem. How the candles never end up torching the bags and setting the yard on fire is still anathema to me, but it’s been going on for a long time and you never read of a luminaria fire from the Christmas Eve tradition.
The Spanish, Mexican and Native American traditions are strong in New Mexico, and Christmas is a time of feasting. Posole is a Southwest tradition at this time. Posole is dried hominy and it may be made as a dish in itself, but is more often featured with boned pork, onions, chiles and spices.
Other popular holiday dishes include Pumpkin and Chile Soup, Carne Adobada (pork chops marinated in red chile sauce), Red Chile Tamales and Albondigas Soup (a type of meatball soup with red chile).
Biscochitos (the traditional spelling is Bizcochitos) (New Mexican sugar cookies) are also a Christmas specialty in New Mexico.
The “River of Lights” in Albuquerque – Another Holiday Tradition!
One of the most incredible holiday events in Albuquerque began in 1996 and is sponsored by the New Mexico Biopark Society in partnership with the City of Albuquerque. The “River of Lights” is an incredible, sprawling, impressive display of lights at the Albuquerque Biopark Botanic Garden. There are 550 sculptures, with 12 miles of extension cords and 200 miles of light strings containing millions of individual twinkling lights of all colours. The displays and animated sculptures range from a 1-foot flower to a 30-foot high Brontosaurus! Although it is hard to get a sense of the scale of this installation, the tractors, cows, cacti and many more are life-size, not to mention the Brontosaurus!
My husband I and toured this amazing display on December 12th and were awed by this spectacular work of art. Of course, it wouldn’t be New Mexico without a UFO, and there is a fabulous UFO hovering above the grounds, abducting a cow! USA Today has sponsored a “Best Botanical Garden Holiday Lights” (Reader’s Choice) contest and the “River of Lights” is among the top 10 nominees. Enjoy the following slide show!
Author’s Note: The Biopark “River of Lights” placed No. 8 on USA Today’s list, but as far as I’m concerned it should have been No. 1!
(all photos in the slide show by Sue Jimenez, 2018)
Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year. Merry Christmas from New Mexico! Navidad Alegre y Felices Fiestas de Nuevo México!