Friday, December 19, 2008

Full-tilt fiesta season continues...

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Just when I thought I’d O.D.ed on awe and wonder, I found myself infused with another dose of fiesta adrenaline.
The only dilemma was, which choice to make. Anyone who says there is nothing to do in Las Cruces must have been hibernating in a very deep cave.
Full-tilt fiesta season used to have its lulls and valleys. Now it’s a steady cascade of events with a couple of Superweekends, periods so crammed with relentless fun and pageantry that only the strongest fiesta animals can hope to survive.
After Winterfest weekend, I thought I might be one of the casualties, succumbing to one of the two chronic maladies sweeping the Sun-News this year.
I got the one that goes beyond Montezuma’s Revenge into Montezuma’s Vendetta, causing you to lose five pounds in 24 hours and later making you feel obligated to have at least a few Christmas cookies, a pitcher of Margaritas and a pint or two of peppermint stick ice cream to build up your strength.
Instead, I decided it was time to take a break and contemplate my choices. I bellied up the bar — Corie Lane’s Pure Energy Juice Bar at Tom Young’s, that is. I ordered a stiff drink: a supersize Immune System Booster, a concoction of lemon juice, lots of cayenne pepper and other industrial strength magic ingredients. Is it potent? Let’s just say, any bugs this drink won’t kill, you WANT to have on your side.
Thus fortified, I planned the rest of my holiday itinerary.
Last weekend, I was sorely tempted to run off to T or C for a soothing soak in Geronimo’s healing waters and the annual Elephant Butte luminarias beach walk and floating parade of lights and art hop, crowned with a community screening of “It’s A Wonderful Life” at the El Cortez Theater, a place I’ve always wanted to see and never manage to catch when it’s open.
But I’ve never missed joining at least one day of Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival celebrations and dancing, and I also wanted to catch the last day of the Border Artist Show. And I had my heart set on heading to first-century Judea complete with artisans and traditional foods, surveying the recreated marketplace, picking a “tribe” and joining a tour to see over 100 period-costumed, artistic Methodists create living Nativity scenes in the Advent Journey.
Could I I still fit in the “Living Christmas Tree” musical spectacular and the Mesilla Christmas Tree Lighting and the Ft. Selden Luminaria Tour and reenacters’ encampment amidst the ruins? And what about all those tempting weekend concerts with Vos Vaqueros and Celestial Sounds, and the Mesilla Valley Chorale? Could I remain standing long enough to join any or all of those sing-along ops?
I wondered briefly if I should have avoided all these difficult decisions and accepted offers to join loved ones for the holidays in the Pacific Northwest, New York or Florida.
Bemused, I wandered out to my yard, where the mid-December temperature hovered around 70 after a little cold snap that almost killed my petunias and neon lapis blue lobelia, but not quite. Confused butterflies still fluttered around my patio, trying to make sense of global warming.
And I attempted to choose from an astonishment of seasonal riches, missing distant loved ones, as we all do this time of year, but greatly comforted by the joys of life in my chosen querencia.
There’s no place like home for the holidays, especially if your home is Las Cruces.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wacky & wonderful holiday traditions

LAS CRUCES AND MESILLA — It’s the time of year for sacred rites that inspire joy and creative and touching Southwestern traditions that can conjure smiles, awe and wonder and sometimes amazed amusement.
Tanks of piranhas decked with poinsettias. Rolling fields of fluffy white stuff that turns out to be not snow, but cotton harvest remnants. Hand-crafted snowguys with red chile noses. Giant roadrunner sculptures made out of recycled trash, merrily lit with twinkle lights.
Gathering with amigos on Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza. Watching dancers in feather bonnets and Our Lady of Guadalupe tunics at Tortugas Pueblo. Figuring out new ways to hang our cowboy boot stockings on a kiva fireplace. Homemade holiday tamales and (new to me this year) turkey and mashed potatoes with red chile gravy and cranberry-green chile sauce. Yucca pod wreaths and tumbleweed Christmas trees …
These are just a few of my favorite holiday things.
The holidays here are a wonderfully eclectic mixture of the beautiful and traditional … and the deeply weird. And it all just keeps getting better.
This is my 15th holiday season in this part of the state, and I’ve fallen in love with some traditional celebrations and been introduced to new favorites, some of which have died and been reborn in new forms.
I’m looking forward to the 2008 version of La Posada Friday on the Downtown Mall, especially after hearing tales from some good friends who grew up here. The way they’ve explained it, it’s sort of like a Christmas version of trick or treat. A friend said she and her buddies used to go from house to house asking if there was room at the inn, and has fond memories of being rewarded with tamales and biscochitos and all kinds of goodies.
This week, everyone will be able to enjoy singing followed by goodies and a piƱata.
It’s one tradition I’ve seen reborn in recent years, along with “Los Pastores,” an ancient ritual with deep roots in the Mesilla Valley that has come back after a few tough years. It was started here nearly half a century ago by a group of Mesilla families who are determined to keep it alive.
When it comes to holiday traditions, Mesilla is probably ground zero in both the most beautiful and most weird categories.
Josefina’s Gate, possibly the most photographed adobe structure in southern New Mexico, is always beautiful this time of year, and was even before Josefina’s daughter, Kathleen Foreman, transformed her late mom’s adobe home into one of the region’s loveliest lunch and tea rooms. The late, great Josefina Gamboa Biel is credited with starting Mesilla’s tradition of luminarias, carols and drinks on the Mesilla Plaza on Christmas Eve. It’s one of the most wonderful ways to spend Dec. 24 to be found anywhere on the planet, in my opinion.
But I also like the weird stuff: Like the Mesilla classic that I think of as the outlaw redemption center tableau: a beautiful, life-sized Nativity scene perched on the roof of Billy the Kid Gift Shop, with an image of Billy hanging out below.
And right across the street, at La Posta, I always make a point of taking visitors to see the cages of parrots and tanks of piranhas flanked by banks of bright red poinsettias accented by darting, flashing bits of gold nearby. I don’t always reveal that the glittering goldfish aren’t decorations, but lunch for the piranhas. Somehow, I’ve always managed to schedule my tours to avoid feeding times.
Last week, it was wonderful to celebrate an event-filled Christmas Superweekend and what this year became its crown jewel: Winterfest.
I remember my first Christmas in Las Cruces, walking through the crumbling, dirty Downtown Mall that was then termed “a graveyard of high hopes.”
This month, it was a sparkling winter wonderland of promises fulfilled, as crowds drifted from the refurbished Branigan Cultural Center and relatively new Las Cruces Museum of Art through the 18 venues, including galleries and theaters, featured in the monthly Downtown Ramble and on to the spruced-up block housing the restored Rio Grande Theatre. Everything was aglow with electric lights and luminarias. There was music and dancing and treats and transport via horse-drawn carriages to more celebrations at Pioneer Women’s Park and the beautifully restored Court Youth Center.
It hit me, as then-toddler grandson Alex the great use to put it, in “one swell foop.”
In the last decade, many of our high hopes have been realized. Our downtown is becoming a delight.
Merry Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at