New Mexico Traditions Spread Holiday Warmth

Luminarias lit up at night

New Mexico Traditions Spread Holiday Warmth

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs shares holiday cheer across the state

By Stephen Hamway

As snow accumulates on our mountain peaks and the days grow ever shorter, we’re reminded that the holiday season is just around the corner. While so many of us have traditions that help us mark the season and make it feel bright, these traditions vary from community to community and family to family. New Mexico is a massive state, and the range of holiday traditions celebrated here is broader still.

At the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, we strive to honor our state’s rich cultural tapestry with a broad range of holiday events and practices through its New Mexico Traditions series. Over the past several years, New Mexico Traditions has grown to encompass holiday events at each of the department’s 15 museums and Historic Sites, and runs from Halloween through Valentine’s Day.

Some events are tied to Christmas, with traditional farolitos, holiday markets, and visits from Santa Claus. But others celebrate Lunar New Year, Día de Muertos, Veterans Day, and the countless Tribal traditions that have been celebrated for generations in the land we call New Mexico. As we move into the holiday season, here are just a few of the family-friendly festivities our team has planned for the winter months. (Visit for detailed information on all the Department’s events.)

In Santa Fe, our museums on the Plaza and Museum Hill have a slate of holiday events coming up. On Sunday, December 10, head to the New Mexico History Museum for Las Posadas, a creative retelling of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place of shelter in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. Posada, which means “inn” or “lodging,” is a Christmas tradition in Mexico, the southwestern United States, and many Latin American countries. Las Posadas itself has been celebrated in a number of forms since the late 1500s. Now in its 47th year at the New Mexico History Museum, staff and community volunteers celebrate and retell Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a candlelit procession that begins on the Santa Fe Plaza and concludes with carols and good cheer.

Light of Los Luceros

Lights of Los Luceros. Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

On Friday, December 15, head up to Museum Hill for the annual Winter Glow Holiday Stroll. This year, stops include a pair of beloved Santa Fe institutions: the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture . Stop by for snacks, family-friendly activities, and much more.

Back on the Plaza, the New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art will host a Holiday Open House on Saturday, December 16. Explore the galleries and create holiday crafts at our Plaza location and the New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary in the Railyard. Enjoy outstanding performances by some of Santa Fe’s most talented young musicians with the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Association. Drop into the museum’s library to view some seasonally themed items from our archival collections during an open house. Librarian Abby Smith will be on hand to showcase holiday cards from the Will Schuster archive and the Baumann collection, as well as answer all your questions about the museum library and archives.

The New Mexico History Museum is also pleased to revive an old favorite exhibition, Art from the Heart, which features Christmas-themed letters, carvings, and woodblock prints by artist and printmaker Gustave Baumann. For more than five decades, beginning in 1918, Baumann created unique holiday greeting cards for his friends in Santa Fe’s art community. One part idle drawing and one part polished artwork, these creations showcase the lighter side of the internationally renowned Santa Fe artist’s work.

Looking for something to do for the holidays outside Santa Fe? Try a candlelit nighttime stroll through some of Northern New Mexico’s scenic landmarks, courtesy of New Mexico Historic Sites. Of course, whether you say farolitos or luminarias when referring to the iconic candlelit paper bags lining roads and trails during the holidays comes down to what part of our state you call home. In an argument that dates back more than four centuries, northern New Mexicans tend to use farolito, derived from farol, the Spanish word for “lantern.” Meanwhile, our neighbors to the south have stuck with calling the distinctive decorations luminarias, based on the Spanish word for light.

Noche de las Luminarias

Noche de las Luminarias. Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Whatever you call them, these lights will line the trails and help spread holiday cheer during events at Northern New Mexico’s historic sites throughout December. Beginning a new tradition on Saturday, December 2, Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner Historic Site welcomes visitors for its Winter Letters Farolito Tour, a night of beauty and reflection. On December 8 and 9, Jemez Historic Site’s Lights of Gisewa event will bring lines of farolitos to the village’s footprint. Formerly titled Light Among the Ruins, this event also includes an arts and crafts fair as well as food vendors. The following weekend, head to Los Luceros Historic Site for Lights of Los Luceros on Saturday, December 16. This annual event features arts and crafts, food and drink options from local vendors, winter night-sky observation, and, of course, plenty of farolitos, luminarias, and Christmas lights.

In Albuquerque, the holiday season kicks off with the Old Town Holiday Stroll from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, December 1. This annual event brings holiday cheer to the historic heart of New Mexico’s largest city, with hot chocolate, live performers, and a tree-lighting ceremony on the Plaza Don Luis. During the stroll, stop by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for food and beverages, a visit from Santa, and much more.

The following weekend, head down to the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s winter Día de Familia on Friday, December 8 for a full slate of free family-friendly seasonal activities. Sip on hot cocoa and nibble biscochitos while enjoying winter crafts, and stick around for a screening of Disney’s Encanto.

Across New Mexico, our traditions allow us to mark the moments that matter most to us and pass on elements of our culture to the next generation. On behalf of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, we invite you to share in our traditions and celebrate the holiday season with us.

Stephen Hamway is a Public Relations Specialist for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, representing the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Historic Preservation Division.


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