By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — The mystical aroma of roasting green chile wafting through a cozy adobe and blending with the smoky scents emanating from piñon logs on a kiva hearth will make you forget about chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Christmas in New Mexico offers so many treats and blessings missed by culturally-deprived souls in less fortunate and less imaginative parts of the world.
In fact, a season or two here could make you wonder if the Three Wise Men might have foregone the frankincense, gold, and myrrh in favor of piñon, turquoise and green chile if they’d had a chance to stock up on supplies in this part of the world.
Christmas in New Mexico will show you why they call this the Land of Enchantment. Once you’ve experienced it, it stays in your soul forever, and even pre-conversion Grinches and Scrooges are swayed by its sweet, spicy and spiritual delights.
And sometimes, its eccentric surprises.
You can find beach bonfires and high desert lighted boat parades at Elephant Butte.
We enjoy weeks of innovative and traditional holiday music and dance.
There are pageants whose roots go back centuries.
For the Gran Posada, Mary, Joseph and a donkey, generally borrowed from the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, lead a procession on the Downtown Mall and search for room at the inn, followed by piñata whacking and a little nosh that stars our official state cookie: biscochitos.
Six local families have joined for generations to continue annual presentations of Los Pastores, a colorful morality play filled with diablos and angels and humor and pathos and uplifting messages.
This is the year I gave up on trying to do a total count of the number of luminarias fielded for Mesilla Valley displays ... at Winterfest, NMSU’s Noche de Luminarias, Fort Selden State Monument’s Luminaria Tour, the Friends of Rockhound State Park Festival of Light, the Weekend of Lights Festival, Luminaria Beachwalk & Floating Lights Parade in Elephant Butte and Truth or Consequences and the Christmas week plaza displays in Doña Ana and Christmas Eve in Mesilla.
Christmas is never really Christmas for me without a visit to Mesilla. I love the tree with ornaments handmade by elementary school kids, and beautiful San Albino Basilica and the gazebo and old adobe Mesilla Plaza buildings decorated for the season, reminiscent, many say, of the best of old Santa Fe in its golden era.
But Mesilla has a style all its own, too: The large nativity scene perched above a portrait of Billy the Kid, for instance.
And my frequent visitors always clamor for a return pilgrimage to see the three Ps —the live piranhas, parrots and poinsettias — flocked together at the entrance of La Posta restaurant.
I visited this week and was told there is currently just one piranha in residence. The glittery gold fish in surrounding tanks looked especially joyful. Their chances of peace on earth this season are vastly improved with the diminished piranha population, since the goldfish are their Christmas dinner.
While you’re at La Posta, don’t miss the beautiful, hand-painted, larger-than-life nativity figures and scenes created by Kathy Groves and Beverly Chavez Floyd, who also created imaginative Borderland-inspired Christmas trees festooned with colorful Mexican paper flowers, silvery punched tin ornaments, parrots and puffs of Mesilla Valley cotton to simulate snow.
The nativity figures, gathered in vignettes in rooms throughout the historical adobe complex, also feature distinctive Borderland folk art style and unmistakable New Mexico influences.
Silver, punched-tin birds fly over the head of baby Jesus in his folk art crib, nestled in a cloud of cotton. In a bright orange room with a swatch of exposed adobe brick, a shepherd in a robe festooned with a red chile ristra abides over his flock, which includes a lovely turquoise-colored sheep accented with motifs of red, orange, purple and green.
Ah, Christmas in New Mexico. May its creative and loving spirit linger with you through 2010.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at email@example.com, (575) 541-5450