A night to rejoice and enjoy the light

December 25, 2018

If Christmas Eve is not the most wonderful night of the year, it certainly comes close.

From the chill in the air and (occasionally) snow on the ground to the smell of piñon fires and the sight of little lights shining through paper bags, the night before Christmas is particularly blessed in Northern New Mexico.

In towns like Santa Fe, whole neighborhoods set out farolitos, candles glowing from inside the bags, and burn luminarias, the blazing pitchwood bonfires. Across Northern New Mexico, there will be farolitos along the side of highways and lining fences. Española residents will put out some 5,000 farolitos on Christmas Eve, continuing a tradition started by former Mayor Richard Lucero. Meanwhile, at area pueblos, people build bonfires that leap toward the sky. At many pueblos, too, there are various dances that manage to celebrate both the birth of the Christ child and the old ways, too.

A newer tradition are electric lights, with the Santa Fe Plaza shining brightly and residents across town adding luster to the darkness with their displays. New this year are lights at Tesuque Casino, on Opera Hill, where the Christmas lights lend beauty to the night. There’s a little extra glow on Christmas Eve, it seems.

Christian churches, of course, conduct their various services, with children singing, prayers or Mass at midnight, all leading up to the anticipated birth of a baby. Musical performances can be found at various locations across town, celebrations of a different sort. And, of course, there is food, with traditional norteño offerings of red chile, tamales, posole, biscochitos, empanaditas and other delights of Christmas. Sometimes the best thing about Christmas Eve is simply stopping the commotion of holiday preparations and enjoying each other’s company.

What a magical time.

For longtime santafesinos and visitors, few traditions are as beloved as strolling through the neighborhoods around Canyon Road, where generous people put out farolitos and luminarias and welcome strangers as they walk by.

Remember, of course, this is not an opportunity to guzzle booze and become rowdy. These are neighbors welcoming the rest of us for moments of beauty, not drunken revelry. If the neighbors throw in hot cocoa or a few moments around a bonfire, say thank you nicely and don’t abuse their hospitality. Streets are closed off for motorized traffic during the annual Christmas Eve walk, so be prepared to stroll (and take care, because there will be ice and uneven streets and sidewalks). It’s an adventure that requires warm layers, gloves and access to a nice warm fire after.

Most of all, Christmas Eve is a time to take in the stillness, even amid the celebrations, and to be glad that the waiting is almost over. Whether you are looking forward to Christmas Mass, Pueblo dances, opening presents or heading up to the ski basin for a day on the slopes, la noche buena means that Christmas — the season we’ve been anticipating these past few weeks — is almost here.

Tonight, we gather with the people we love, whether in person or in our hearts and memories. It is a time to eat, to be merry and to give thanks for blessings, especially the gift of being in one of the more special places in the world to celebrate this season. Whatever our beliefs, we can all rejoice, for the light is returning. And, boy has it been a dark winter.

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