Christmas at the Palace, Re-Imagined

by | Dec 1, 2020

Whether you’re completely overjoyed at the holiday season or think it’s humbug, the Christmas at the Palace event held every year at the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe Plaza has always been a community favorite. 

Christmas at the Palace was created as a way for the New Mexico History Museum staff to give back to the community for their support throughout the year. Enjoying the refreshments, meeting familiar faces we haven’t visited with since the year before, warming up around bonfires — all of these ingredients made this a special event for locals and visitors to Santa Fe alike for almost 40 years. 

In years past, some 1,500 to 3,000 people strolled through the rooms of the museum, enjoying Christmas trees decorated with ornaments hand-carved from Rio Grande driftwood, antique blown glass, painted tinwork and Victorian paper adornments. Crowds gathered in the Palace of the Governors courtyard for the grand entrance of Santa, Mrs. Claus and the accompanying elves at sundown. Along the old brick walkways, special fire pits are lit with stacks of wood for small bonfires, adding to the festive atmosphere and the aroma of burning piñon.

Festivities for this year’s 38th annual event were already being planned months in advance when the coronavirus-related closings forced the New Mexico History Museum to rethink how to celebrate our community. 

We cannot share our candies, cookies, cider or appreciation for Santa Fe in person this year, but we’ve worked to find exciting ways to rekindle that magic — together at home!

The museum now has a New Mexico Traditions page on Facebook, where we will be crowdsourcing and sharing stories about our state’s heritage and envisioning new ways to connect to New Mexicans near and far. Check this page for some great traditional recipes and how-to videos. Not on Facebook? Find the activities and much more at the museum blog. 

Here are some of the things you can do in your own celebrations at home this year, in the spirit of Christmas at the Palace: 

Salt and Flour Dough Ornaments​​​

These ornaments are fun to make and last a long time. The salt acts as a preservative, and since the dough doesn’t taste sweet no one will want to eat it! This recipe can make a lot of ornaments and is a great project to do with your family. Link to the recipe below, and follow along on the ​how-to video on the New Mexico History Museum’s YouTube channel.. 
Instructions

Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup table salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
paint and ribbon, for decoration

Procedure

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Slowly stream in the water while stirring until it comes together. Finish mixing together with hands. Knead until dough is soft, about five minutes.

Roll the dough: Place half of the dough between two large pieces of parchment paper. Roll out until 1/8″ thick. (Thicker dough can result in bubbles and uneven baking.) Remove the top sheet of parchment. If you don’t have parchment paper, just roll out on a flat surface and sprinkle with flour if it starts to stick.

Shape the ornaments: Using cookie cutters or the end of a butter knife, cut shapes (leaving them on the parchment). Peel away the excess dough- you can re-roll it out until you use it all up for different shapes. Transfer the parchment with shapes to a baking sheet. Using a straw or toothpick, poke a hole for ribbon or an ornament hanger. Optional: Press your ornaments with forks, lace, beads and rubber stamps, and think about the texture if you want to play with pattern and design.

Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, or until the dough is hard.

Decorate! Once cooled, decorate using tempera or acrylic paint. You can use permanent markers, or spray paint, and decorate however you like. Optional: To help make the ornaments last, spray or brush with a light coat of Mod Podge (available in craft supply stores) or polyurethane. When everything is dry, put a ribbon or wire through the hole and hang on the tree, or wherever you’d like!

Printer’s Devil​​

What is a printer’s devil? If you were a young person working in a historic print shop, you would want to keep the ink off your head. And you might need a nifty paper hat that could be turned around and used as a tray, too. Watch this tutorial video to see master printer Tom Leech show you how to fold your own printer’s hat. All you need is a piece of newspaper. of ne

Bring the print shop home!

Do you have enough cards to send to your friends? While we can’t have everybody crowding into the print shop this year, Tom Leech and James Bourland, the master printers at the helm, have created a downloadable PDF of classic New Mexico images, sized as postcards for you to print  out and send. 

Experience a Christmas Corrido. 

The Friends of History presented a lecture this fall featuring New Mexico musician and storyteller Chuy Martinez. Check out his story of how he wrote a Christmas Corrido (a traditional form of narrative poetry) adapting Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to New Mexico and listen to his performance​ on YouTube. ​

Make your own tinwork candle lantern.

 Try this beautiful New Mexico craft and make a little tinwork lantern with supplies you probably have around the house. ​

Make a batch of biscochitos.

These cookies are traditionally made with lard, but they come out beautifully with either lard or vegetable shortening. Early recipes for New Mexico’s official state cookie called for adding sweet wine, brandy or whisky for moisture instead of water!

Make a corn husk doll.

Tamales aren’t the only things to make from corn husks at holiday time! Come see this video for instructions for how to make a corn-husk doll as New Mexicans did way back when.

Enjoy music of the season.

Brighten up your home with the beautiful sounds of our state historian Rob Martinez singing Feliz Navidad, and Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe singing Ireland’s Charles Wood’s arrangement of Deck the Halls.

Look for new recipes, activities and videos on the New Mexico History Museum Facebook page and blog
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