The Christmas Lights of New Mexico

December 8, 2014 | By: Monica Christofferson

Nothing says Christmas time in the Land of Enchantment quite like the soft glow of luminarias or farolitos in towns and cities throughout the state. On a clear, brisk winter night, particularly in ski country, these traditional New Mexican holiday lights turn any evening stroll into something magical.

What exactly is a luminaria though and what’s the difference between that and a farolito?

Like many of the unique traditions of New Mexico, this practice dates back more than 300 years to the Spanish settlers of the region who wanted to create light during this holy season to illuminate the path of the Christ child. The word luminaria originally referred only to the small vigil fires that were created from local piñon pine during this time of year, while farolito was used to describe small paper lanterns.

Today, however, throughout most of New Mexico, the words luminaria and farolito are used interchangeably. Both refer to the simple lanterns traditionally made from a paper bag (think sack lunch size) containing a votive candle resting on a few scoops of sand. Electronic models featuring illuminated plastic sacks are also widely available now for those looking for a little more convenience.

Individually, these little lanterns are somewhat unimpressive. Collectively though, the sight of hundreds lining pathways, doorsteps, rooftops, archways, and lawns, combined with the scent of burning firewood wafting through the air — it’s an unforgettable snapshot for the senses.

Fortunately, there are several locations throughout the state that feature stunning examples of this distinct New Mexico holiday tradition for the whole family to enjoy. Here are just a few:

  • Albuquerque’s Luminaria Tour features hundreds of people strolling or taking guided tours through the city’s impressive Old Town and Country Club neighborhood displays.
  • Santa Fe’s famous Farolito Walk on Canyon Road is a free event that features carolers and no shortage of holiday spirit as you stroll the historic route.
  • At Red River’s Christmas Luminaria Tour you can ski or snowshoe through the Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area past the soft glowing lights while enjoying complimentary chile con queso, green chile stew, posole, desserts, and hot drinks.

Elsewhere, several other New Mexico ski resorts — Angel Fire Resort, Ski Apache, and Taos Ski Valley — host torchlight parades on Christmas Eve and fireworks on New Year’s Eve. At Valles Caldera, there’s New Year’s Eve cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the evening, followed by fireworks.

Whatever you choose to do while visiting New Mexico during the holiday season, you won’t have to go far to soak in one of the state’s most memorable and picturesque traditions. For more holiday light events visit New Mexico True.

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