Unique Holiday Experiences in New Mexico - LasCruces.com

No other place on Earth celebrates the holidays like New Mexico. Whether that includes luminarias and farolitos, electric light parades, bonfires on the beach, a river of lights, or a performance of a centuries-old Pastorela, by celebrating your holidays in New Mexico, you’re all but guaranteeing yourself a unique experience. What follows is a far-from-complete bucket list of holiday experiences taking place across the Land of Enchantment this holiday season, to bring out the joy and warmth of espíritu de Navidad.


Events such as Christmas on Mainstreet, and the Annual Christmas Parade of Lights are mainstays of the Alamogordo holidays, but have you ever considered spending them with the animals for a unique holiday experience? During the Annual Christmas Zoobilee, the Alameda Park Zoo is open late for everyone to enjoy the Christmas lights and see their favorite animals romping in their habitats. Taking place Saturday, December 16, from 12 – 8 p.m., the event includes hot chocolate and apple cider, campfire smores, live music, and a luminaria walk.


Nestled in the Southern Rocky Mountains in New Mexico, Angel Fire is known primarily for its ski resort, but the holidays are special in this beautiful mountain town. It all starts with the Holiday Market on Saturday, December 16, but things really get interesting beginning Friday, December 22, when you can gather your gear and take in a little Night Skiing and Snowboarding, from 4 – 7 p.m. Then on Christmas Eve, celebrate the holidays mountain-style with the annual Fireworks and Torchlight Parade, beginning at 6 p.m. Join the gathering at the base of the mountain as skiers bearing torches slalom down the slopes, while fireworks burst overhead. The entire experience is repeated on New Year’s Eve, too!


The holiday season in Carlsbad kicks off on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 25, at 7 p.m., when the community comes together for MainStreet’s famous Electric Light Parade, followed by the Creative Carlsbad Arts Council’s Night of Lights. But the most unique holiday offering in Carlsbad is Christmas on the Pecos, in which visitors can go on a boat tour through the twinkling light displays along the Pecos River.

Christmas on the Pecos is one of the unique holiday experiences you can enjoy in New Mexico, with backyards decorated with Christmas-lighted scenes.
Christmas on the Pecos is one of the unique holiday experiences you can enjoy in New Mexico, with backyards decorated with Christmas-lighted scenes.

The 45-minute tours depart from the turn-of-the-century Pecos River Park in Carlsbad and take you past panoramic views of illuminated islands, boat docks, and backyards. Display themes depict Santa’s workshop, the Southwest desert, and more as the reflections in the river create a magical shimmering effect. Boat rides begin Saturday, Nov. 25, and continue through Sunday, Dec. 31.


The City of Las Cruces celebrates its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, at Plaza de Las Cruces, on Saturday, December 2, but for a truly illuminating experience, head over to New Mexico State University on Sunday, December 3, for its annual Noche de Luminarias, along the International Mall. More than 7,000 luminarias line the International Mall and Corbett Center Student Union, while horse-driven carriage rides, hot cocoa, caroling, and more welcome visitors back to the campus. This show of lights is one of the largest luminaria displays in New Mexico, and is available to the public free of charge.

One of the more unique New Years’ Eve celebrations also takes place in the City of the Crosses, when the Las Cruces Chile Drop rings in the new year at the Plaza de Las Cruces with a 19-foot chile pepper featuring 400 feet of LED lighting. The night also features live music, food trucks, and other activities, free of charge.


The town of Mesilla starts the holiday season off with its annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, on the historic Mesilla Plaza, Friday, December 1, from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. The tree will find itself challenged in the wattage department by the glow of hundreds of luminarias lining walkways and buildings all around the plaza, in a spectacle that draws visitors from all across the country.

The fun continues on Christmas Eve, a tradition that started in the mid-1960s and includes Christmas carols, vigils, and free hot chocolate and cookies. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the website.


Quickly becoming the largest luminaria event in central New Mexico, Luminária de Abó, sponsored by the Friends of Salinas Pueblo Missions, will be held Saturday, December 2, from 5 – 7 p.m., nine miles west of Mountainair. More than 1,000 handmade, hand-placed, and hand-lighted, luminarias set the landscape aglow, tracing the outline of the seventeenth century San Gregorio de Abó Mission at the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

The free event attracts families, photo enthusiasts, and holiday revelers for a special evening under the stars walking paths set aglow with flickering luminarias. Guests can gather in the festively decorated pavilion for warm hot cocoa, cider, tamales, and traditional biscochito cookies, while local musicians play music that celebrates cultural traditions, and children participate in the breaking of candy-filled piñatas.


For a cozy, snowy town feel, book a cabin and stay a couple of days in charming Ruidoso, where you’ll find plenty of winter adventures and fun. Whether it’s tubing at Ruidoso Winter Park, sleigh rides at Grindstone Stables, or ice skating at Wingfield Park, there’s something for everybody in Lincoln County’s winter wonderland. The holidays, however, hold a special appeal.

Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh in snow is one of the not-to-be-missed holiday experiences in New Mexico.
Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh in snow is one of the not-to-be-missed holiday experiences in New Mexico.

Midtown Ruidoso lights up the night for the Festival of Lights Parade hosted by the Ruidoso Valley Chamber of Commerce, taking place on Saturday, December 2, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Following the event is an afterparty at Wingfield Park, including food, drinks, activities for kids, fire pits for roasting marshmallows, an outdoor movie, and photos with Santa.

Can’t get enough lights? The annual Christmas Drone Show lights up the White Mountain Complex on Saturday, December 9, from 6 – 9:30 p.m., beginning with a drive-in showing of Arthur Christmas, followed by a spectacular holiday drone show at 8:15 p.m.


During the winter season, Santa Fe can feel like the backdrop of a Christmas love story. Beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving, the city is festively decorated with evergreen garlands and farolitos. The historic Santa Fe Plaza is lit up with colorful lights strung on trees and decorations adorning lamp posts.

A must-see during the season is the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Winter Indian Market on Saturday and Sunday, November 25 and 26, at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. Here adult and young artists carry on the traditional work of Spanish Colonial New Mexico, featuring their handmade, museum-quality works in a variety of media, including santos, jewelry, weaving, woodcarving, pottery, and more. You’ll never find more unique holiday gifts than here!

While you’re at it, one of the largest and most beloved events during the holiday season in Santa Fe is the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk on Canyon Road. This holiday tradition consists of hundreds of farolitos lining the street, adobe walls, and houses of the neighborhood, while carolers gather and sing for joy as they warm themselves. There really is nothing like it.


Though the desert of southwestern New Mexico may seem like an odd place to do so, you can celebrate a Victorian Christmas at the Silver City Museum, which transports adventurous guests to Christmas past on Saturday, December 9, from 5 – 8 p.m. This festive family-friendly celebration features Victorian-era decorations, costumed characters, live music, and refreshments, and best of all, it’s free, though donations are encouraged.


Located in Northern New Mexico, Taos is filled with plenty of smalltown charm. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, Taos begins its Yuletide celebrations, bringing its small community together with everything from the Yuletide Tree Lighting on Taos Plaza on Saturday, December 2, from 5 – 7 p.m. to Bonfires on Bent Street, Sunday, December 9, from 4 – 7 p.m., but the festivities get more unique throughout the month.

A ritual tradition that had its start in Mexico over 400 years ago is Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration of religious observance beginning December 16, and ending December 24. In Taos, the event is celebrated by pilgrims known as Posaditas, led by Mary and Joseph, who go to a different house each night, only to be sent away. On the ninth night, they are finally given shelter. People along the route decorate their home entrances with farolitos to light the way, and cook traditional foods like tamales and biscochitos, which are given to the Posaditas.

A truly unique and magical event takes place on Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo, where the Procession of the Virgin Mary sets off at 5 p.m. Lit by massive bonfires, and celebrated with rifle salutes from the rooftops of the 1000 year old adobe buildings, the event is free and lasts about two hours. Just be aware that parking is limited and warm clothing are recommended.


The town of Truth or Consequences celebrates its Old-Fashioned Christmas with a Tree Lighting ceremony at Evelyn Renfro Park, Friday, December 8, from 6 – 9 p.m., but as long as you’re in the area, you’ll want to follow that up with one of New Mexico’s truly unique holiday experiences.

Every year, on the second Saturday in December, Elephant Butte State Park becomes a twinkling wonderland caused by thousands of luminarias and dozens of bonfires on land, and a floating armada of lights on the water. The Annual Luminaria Beachwalk & Floating Lights Parade will be held this year on Saturday, December 9, from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Elephant Butte State Park entrance. In addition, you’ll find free hot cider, hot chocolate, chile, posole, green chile stew, and sweet treats. Park entry fees apply.


One of New Mexico’s hidden treasures is the one-night-only Christmas Eve Luminaria display, in which Highway 70 is lined with the traditional lanterns where it passes through the center of town from dusk until the candles burn out around midnight. Traffic is slowed down to 15 mph, and street lights are dimmed, so locals and visitors alike can enjoy the sight of thousands of luminarias lining walls, buildings, sidewalks, and parking lots. Those who get off the highway may find the hot spot where posole is being served to volunteers and visitors.

Luminaria display at a church.

And finally, surrounded as it is by lands owned by Native peoples, December is a time of cultural wonder for many visitors to northern New Mexico, beginning with the Walatowa Winter Arts & Craft Show at Jemez Pueblo on December 2 – 3, and followed by Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day with Matachines Dances at Pojoaque Pueblo on Tuesday, December 12; Bonfire Dances on Christmas Eve, and so much more. Check out the schedule for more information.

Story compiled by Mike Cook, Jackye Meinecke, Alexia Severson, and David Salcido

Posted by LasCruces.com

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