Updated November 17, 2009Like so many things in Santa Fe, Christmas is celebrated just a little differently. The combination of Western, Hispanic and Native American traditions blend into a holiday celebration not duplicated anywhere else. A couple of years ago, my good friend from Houston shared her story of Santa Fe magic at Christmas. But this year, we have more enticing reasons why you should pack your bags at holdiay time.
Candles in Bags - Known locally as farolitos, these small bags filled with sand and lit from within by votive candles are Northern New Mexico's version of traditional Christmas decorations. They can be found all around the city outlining buildings and, in certain areas on Xmas eve, they are in trees, on walls, along sidewalks, etc. Luminarias are small bonfires said to have lit the way for the 3 Wise Men to Mary and the baby Jesus but are less common. These terms are interchangeable within the region. In Albuquerque the terms are reversed.
Food - Chile is king all year 'round in Santa Fe and Christmas time is no exception. The traditional Christmas Eve dinner is posolé - it's dried corn, like hominy, fixed in a thick soup or stew with chiles. Many of Santa Fe's 200 restaurants prepare special holiday menus of all kinds.
Las Posadas - This is another local event. This traditional Spanish outdoor play is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for a room on Christmas Eve. It begins at the Palace of the Governors, winds around the Plaza and is open to anyone wishing to join the procession. By the end of the walk dozens of people have joined the Mary and Joseph characters as they end at the place of Jesus' birth. The Palace of the Governors: 505-476-5100.
Native American Dances - Many of the animal dances go on throughout the winter at Northern New Mexico's Indian Pueblos. The dates are usually the same from year to year regardless of the day of the week. Christmas is always a time of dancing however. For the Pueblos near Santa Fe: Jemez has Buffalo, Eagle or game animal dances on Christmas and the following days. Taos Pueblo alternates dances every other year between the Deer dance and the Matachina dance, this year it is the Matachina dance. A sundown torchlight procession of the Virgin is scheduled Christmas Eve this year for the Picuris, Nambe and San Juan Pueblos. Matachina and other various dances are scheduled for Xmas day at Picuris, San Juan, Santa Clara, Taos, San Juan and San Ildefonso Pueblos. Inquire this year to see if there will be a Turtle Dance at San Juan and at Santa Clara and Picuris Pueblos there is often a Holy Innocents and children's dances after Christmas. New Year's day is also a time of dancing and the Transfer of the Canes ceremony celebrating the tribes' new leaders coming to power.
Winter Spanish Market - The annual winter market put on by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. This group is dedicated to the preservation of traditional Spanish Colonial artwork such as tin work, straw appliqué and Santos carving; art forms that really are not found anywhere else in the country in this quantity. Santos are either retablos, saints painted on wood typically, or bultos which are 3 dimensional carved figures of saints. Furniture and silver work are also found at the market. Held in early December and a Xmas season tradition in Santa Fe, it is a great place for getting gifts that truly reflect Santa Fe's roots. Spanish Colonial Arts Society, 505-982-2226.
Feast of Guadalupe - The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas. She first appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican Indian, in 1531. This celebration features traditional dancing and feasts held in the Pueblo's home. Visitors can be invited to dine with tribal members but are encouraged not to linger to allow others a place at the table. Held at the Pojoaque Pueblo. Pojoaque Pueblo, 505-455-3549.
Christmas Eve - Noche Buena, service; the midnight Mass of the Rooster, commemorating the folk story of the animals in the manger which were dismayed that no humans had come to see the Christ child so an old rooster flew to a high point and announced the coming of the Messiah. St. Francis Cathedral, 505-982-5619.
Farolitos - On Xmas Eve the Santa Fe Plaza, heart and soul of the city, is decorated with 1,000 farolitos bringing a warm glow to the city center. Besides the visual spectacle, cider is served, carols are sung and groups take the walk to the nearby Cross of the Martyrs which is also outlined in farolitos. Information: Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-777-2489.