Take a town steeped in historic traditions, sprinkle with mountain snow, mix in a medley of once-a-year occasions, and voila! You’ve whipped up the perfect holiday in Santa Fe. It’s our good fortune to have a treasure trove of festive events unique to Santa Fe — like fall’s Fiesta de Santa Fe or the February ArtFeast. And when Old Man Winter arrives, we have a City Different take on the holidays to decorate the season. Legendary shops and museums, check. Pristine landscape, got it. World-renowned cuisine, always. Holiday music and performing arts … hello, are you getting all this down on your holiday list?
Light Up Your Holiday Season at the Plaza
The traditional heart of any town settled by the Spanish is its plaza. Our beautiful Santa Fe Plaza is truly the center of local holiday celebrations. Tree-laden and lined with historic buildings on every side, the Plaza is always gussied up for our colorful events. Every year, the Santa Fe Model Railroad Club has model trains chugging around the tracks in the First National Bank at the corner of the Plaza at Lincoln and Palace Avenue. And it simply couldn’t be a holiday without Aspen Santa Fe Ballet staging the timeless classic, The Nutcracker, at the Lensic on December 21.
The magic officially begins when the lights flicker to life on the big pine tree, and holiday spirits begin to sparkle along with the entertainment. The lighting ceremony takes place November 29 at 6 pm, and though the mayor of Santa Fe will be there to usher in the holiday fun, I suspect it’s that visit from Santa Claus that will create a wee bit more excitement.
Shopping in a Winter Wonderland
Getting through Thanksgiving is a tall order, and with it begins the search for that elusive holiday “something” to deck your halls or give to someone special. You can’t find a better place for success than SWAIA’s Winter Indian Market, which takes place November 30-December 1 at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. It’s such an intimate, authentic opportunity to buy heartfelt gifts. Smaller and cozier in ambiance than the Summer Market, the event, presented by the renowned Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), showcases the work of 200-plus talented Native artists from all over the U.S. and Canada.
The Native fashion show is a great place to snag a stunning holiday outfit. The kids, meanwhile, can participate in hands-on art activities and draw inspiration by a youth art exhibit. On both days at 11 am, film screenings show the world from a Native perspective in moving pictures. Cirque du Soleil’s star hoop-dancer, Nakotah LaRance, performs with Native musician Ben Frejo both days at 1:30 pm. And don’t forget the silent auction, with items donated by SWAIA artists and local businesses, the raffle for one-of-a-kind holiday ornaments … hey, it might be your lucky day!
This Hometown Holiday Party Deserves a Royal Round of Applause
America isn’t famous for building palaces, but a palace isn’t so startling in Santa Fe, a city settled more than 400 years ago. The Palace of the Governors distinguishes Santa Fe with the oldest continuously operating government building in the U.S. And on December 13, the annual celebration we call Christmas at the Palace takes place in the magical setting of this venerable historic compound on the Santa Fe Plaza.
As the oldest structure in the highly regarded New Mexico History Museum, the Palace welcomes revelers to an old-fashioned holiday party that honors the holiday traditions of the Pueblo people and the Spanish settlers. Settle in with a cup of hot cider for the music and merriment of the evening, which is always capped by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Always Room at the Inn for Weary Wanderers
The sun makes an appearance at least 300 days a year in Santa Fe, which means December gets its share of blue sky and sunshine from above. With an altitude of 7,000 feet, winter here means having a warm coat, hat, and gloves handy. And that’s especially true when we gather on the Plaza for Las Posadas. Hosted by the New Mexico History Museum, this traditional event is a re-enactment of that legendary journey of two exhausted travelers on their way to Bethlehem. Visitors are invited to join the candle-lit procession following the young couple around the Plaza as they seek shelter for the night. Devils show up in full regalia to mock the action, but the crowd always gets the better of evil with some loud and energetic booing. At the successful conclusion, everyone decamps to the Palace of the Governors for cookies and cider before heading back to their own cozy rooms for the night.
Here, a Dazzling Holiday Display is in the Bag!
You say tomay-to, and I say tomah-to. You say luminaria, and I say … farolito. No matter what you call ‘em, the New Mexico tradition of placing an illuminated votive candle in a brown paper bag has spread around the globe to enliven holidays everywhere. New Mexicans from the north talk about “farolitos,” while Albuquerque residents (or “Burquenos,” as they are locally known) refer to the luminescent bags as “luminarias.” Confusion increases when you hear a Santa Fean talking about luminarias, which up here refer to the bonfires lit along the farolito walk. In Santa Fe, you get both, since the luminaria bonfires provide a spot to warm up as you admire the farolitos laid out in their humble bags along downtown streets and driveways.
But wait … what are we talking about? You’ll find out when you take a walk in Santa Fe on the evening of December 24, on this one-night-only decorative heritage event. A series of brown paper lunch bags, filled with just enough sand to secure a votive candle snugly, are placed in decorative rows all over downtown and left to shimmer merrily through the night. The tradition mirrors the purpose of the Star of Bethlehem, shining all night long on Christmas Eve to light the way for the Holy Family.
Make sure you have comfortable shoes and warm clothing, because this is an outdoor walk, with many local streets closed to vehicles. Just picture it: One night, carols ringing out, thousands of farolitos a-glow. And then this bucket-list experience becomes a beautiful memory until the next holiday season rolls around.
Put a Visit to Santa Fe on Your Wish List
Made your list? Checked it twice and a holiday getaway to Santa Fe isn’t penciled in yet? December is one of the most festive — and affordable — times to visit Santa Fe. Blue skies lend inspiration to a mountain hike, winter sunsets paint the landscape, and nothing tastes quite as delicious as a dinner of green chile stew in good company on a cold night. Bring a friend, bring the family, or just give yourself the unique gift of a Santa Fe holiday that’ll be a warm memory for ages.