New Mexico Christmas: Luminaries and Processions
No matter when you visit New Mexico, the state’s cultural mix is part of the appeal. Spanish colonial history, Native traditions and Anglo and Mexican influences are seen year-round in everything from architecture to food. But the Christmas season offers additional ways to experience this unique heritage.
Hallmarks of the holiday include the luminaria and farolito traditions. These candles, usually placed in paper bags weighted with sand, look like lanterns and are carried in nighttime processions or lined up along streets, driveways or rooftops to create a display. Luminaria can also refer to a bonfire, while the term farolito is more likely to be heard in Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico than in Albuquerque.
And while fir, balsam and pine perfume the air at Christmas in other parts of the country, here it’s the scent of burning juniper and pinon.
Many places in New Mexico host annual events Christmas Eve and Christmas Day centered around the luminaria tradition. The main plazas of both Albuquerque and Santa Fe are decorated with thousands of luminarias.
Albuquerque offers walking tours of luminaria displays on Christmas Eve - while Santa Fe hosts a procession called Las Posadas, which tells the story of Jesus. Spectators gather with candles in the city’s historic plaza to watch the parade, which is followed by a "Christmas at the Palace" event at Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors. This event includes Hispanic, Anglo and Native traditions, from caroling to Native dances to an appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus. Midnight Christmas Mass is held at the nearby Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi.