Hands down, my little town of Taos, New Mexico is one of the best places to be for the holiday season.
Never you mind that we are a remote little place in the high desert tucked up against towering snow-capped peaks, the multicultural nature of Taos and the fact that we Taoseños are welcoming and supportive of all types of ethnic and religious traditions makes the holiday season a fun, active and welcoming time of year – despite the freezing temperatures!
Typically the Jewish Festival of Lights kicks it all off at the Taos Jewish Center. Then there is the lighting of the great tree on the plaza. The tree was donated many years ago by the people of Taos Pueblo as a gesture of friendship to the town. Hundreds of people turn out for the music, the caroling and the hot chocolate.
The very next night sees groups of carolers start off from the Taos Inn and make their way to the Lighting of Ledoux Street where bonfires line the streets and revelers sip wine as they stroll through some of the best art galleries in the nation.
Next up comes the Festival of Trees and the Holiday Arts & Craft Fair. The Bonfires on Bent Street Block Party is typically the second weekend of December and sees numerous street performances, free bowls of green chile and posole and classical northern New Mexico music. For the largely Hispanic Catholic community who settled in the area centuries ago the nine days immediately before Christmas are known as Las Posadas, a time of re-enactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus. This is marked, in part, by the candlelight processions at San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos.
All these events top off at Taos Pueblo where vespers at dusk on December 24th are followed immediately by the Christmas Eve Procession when the Pueblo men, shooting rifles in the air, lead the church’s statue of Mary as she is carried through the plaza of the one-thousand year old pueblo and then returned to the church. All the while, huge bonfires of pitch wood are burned to warm the guests and drive away the dark. This is really a “bucket list” type of experience. This is something you will not see anywhere else in the world. On Christmas Day, Taos Pueblo celebrates with the performance of the Matachines. On the southern end of town in the communities of Ranchos de Taos and Talpa, the Los Comanches ceremony is performed to honor Emanuel, the newborn Christ child.
All the while, huge bonfires of pitch wood are burned to warm the guests and drive away the dark. This is really a “bucket list” type of experience. This is something you will not see anywhere else in the world.
Of course holidays in Taos wouldn’t be complete without spending some time on the world-class ski slopes just 20 miles away or snowshoeing into the forests of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Area or bird watching in our new national monument – and then curling up to pass the cold nights near a cozy, warm fire of scented pinyon.
And that’s just a sampling! For a complete list of events in Taos visit the Yuletide in Taos page.
But one of the nicest things about Taos is just how the town looks. Hardly known outside of New Mexico is our tradition of ‘farolitos’ or ‘luminarias’. These are the small candles nestled in sand inside paper bags. Lining the street and rooftops of Taos, the farolitos are a warm, soft and welcoming contrast to the inky winter sky above.
Although a northern New Mexico tradition now, the little lights came to us by way of China. In the apex days of the Manila Galleon Trade, when convoys of Spanish ships plied the route between the southern Chinese ports and Acapulco, Mexico via the Philippines, the Spanish took on the customs of Chinese lantern festivals and brought them to North America where they crept up the trade routes into hinterlands of the empire that would later be New Mexico.
December certainly is a really fun time of year to be in Taos. I can promise you’ve never experienced anything like Christmas in Taos. Stop in for a visit!