Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas in the Land of Enchantment

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
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, (575) 541-5450

Tis the season for extreme clutter

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — This holiday season, I was finally going to clean out all my closets and cupboards and that pile of stuff in the garage and donate everything I haven’t worn, sat or slept on, decorated or cooked or created with in the last year to someone who could make better use of it all.
Those were my good intentions, my early New Year’s resolutions.
That was before I gave at the office.
They chose this joyous season to renovate the Sun-News, so we were asked to clear our decks (and desks) as we were moved around to various exotic locales, including what used to be our advertising department.
Having unearthed several artifacts, I’ve had occasion to remember my first day here, back in 1994, when, as usual, I arrived early. I asked for a suggestion about where to perch from then-colleague Pam Angell, another earlybird, and she pointed to the desk that for the past 16 years has been my home-away-from-home. In fact, I’ve spend more waking hours there than at any one location in any of the homes I’ve occupied since.
I came from opulent Palm Beach, Fla., where one of my offices was nearly the size of the entire newsroom area I have shared with 17 to 30-plus people over the years.
It was a major feat to even contemplate the dismantling of the complex of subterranean and above-ground storage devised over the last decades at my work station, to say nothing of the Lego-like engineering involved in my wall of art. Finally, I gave up, packed what I could in boxes and took the more fragile pieces home.
There, I struggled to find storage space amidst the Christmas chaos. In desperation, I assigned everybody on my gift list a canvas tote or two, scrounged to find yet more packing boxes and shipped off all the out-of-town stuff early.
Usually, I wrap each gift individually with a witty little personal comment or instructions. This time, I didn’t. I should have.
The confused e-mails began trickling in.
“Re: The hoodie, mask and cardinal; I confess I may have to call for further instructions. I see great potential in this outfit, but need further enlightenment,” Dr. Roger e-mailed.
I panicked.
There were three hoodies in that shipment of packages, but none of them were supposed to go to Roger. Would this be a repeat of the holiday in which a brand new shipping clerk sent packages destined for Iowa, Florida and California, all to my son in Portland, Ore.?
I frantically sent out descriptions of all the Christmas hoodies and found that all were present and accounted for.
Roger had been confused by a travel set that included a combination pillow and blanket and a sleep mask, all designed to help insomniacs catch a few winks on a jet. The cardinal was a clip-on, feathered bird I thought would make a festive addition to his hat or tie.
Most of the gift confusion has been resolved. Now, I must get all my office boxes out of storage and figure out how to fit it all artistically into the old space, without marring or clashing with the freshly painted walls, new carpet and ceiling tiles.
Meanwhile, at home on the high range, I should be celebrating boxing day with the rest of the world, packing away the holiday decorations and making room for the new presents.
But maybe I’ll wait awhile. As I said, I gave at the office.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

You and Bing can have your White Christmases

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — I’m not dreaming of a White Christmas.
I grew up in Michigan and I’ve done my time.
Icy, bone-chilling, soul-numbing, snowy, hard time.
In fact, getting away from snow was a major reason I decided to move to New Mexico.
And then out of northern New Mexico, after a year when the snow season lasted from November to the following May in Santa Fe.
After a seven-year detour to Jamaica and southern Florida, where I learned there are far worse things than snow (hurricanes and alligators on the patio, for starters), finally, I got it right and moved here.
In Las Cruces, Jack Frost may, very rarely, nip at your nose, but chances are, he’ll never go full-tilt polar vampiric on you and drain all the warmth from your bones.
We may enjoy a winter wonderland snowfall once or twice a year, but after coating the desert with a fragile layer of icy lace and posing for a photo op against the intensely lapis blue sky, it’s likely to melt away that same day in the gleaming sunlight.
It might hang around for a little longer in the mountains, frosting the Organs and providing a spectacular backdrop without inconveniencing us a whit, as we go about our business at lower elevations.
Snow rarely outstays its welcome, just another reason we love winter in southern New Mexico, where we can usually also expect a few balmy 70-plus degree days here and there.
I used to dread snow. I’d even be inclined to call it a phobia if I didn’t know that the correct definition of phobia is an “irrational and abnormal fear.”
If you’ve done hard time in snow, you know that fear is rational and normal.
Decades later, even after a long and happy hiatus in the desert and the tropics, I can see a weather report and find myself mired in a blizzard of flurry flashbacks, still suffering from PTSS (Post-Traumatic Snow Syndrome).
Even as a very small child, I can remember musing that there had to be a better way of life somehow, somewhere, some way, as mom bundled us in insulated underwear, sweaters, zip-up snowsuits and hats. And more. I still remember the drill: the mittens that were clipped to our sleeves, the muffler tied around our faces, covering our red little noses and our chapped little lips and cheeks.
And yes, I remember the treats, too: making snow angels and snowmen and the thrill of sledding down a powdery hill. The sweet syrupy icicles that dripped from the maple trees in our front yard. The snow ice cream mom showed us how to make by pouring a little milk, sugar and vanilla in a big bowl packed with fresh snow.
And the snow sports: Skiing and ice skating and snowshoeing through the pristine white wilderness.
But that’s not what I remember most when I think of winter. The snow sports and treats just weren’t enough to override the memories of the sheer terror of learning to drive on icy roads, and those frigid daily walks to school, the cabin fever, and yes, all those toddler-through-college snowsuits, the feeling of being confined — trapped, even — for what seemed like more than half the year.
This past week, I realized that a couple of decades in New Mexico — the good, mostly one-day snow part of the state — have healed some of my wounds.
I didn’t even grumble too much when we got twice our usual annual quota of snowfalls in a single week.
It even seemed kind of appropriate to have actual winter weather for Winterfest this year.
But I’m good to go now, and no, I’d just as soon not have a White Christmas this year.
Two 2009 snowfalls are quite enough, thanks.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mary Christmas thoughts

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — She was faithful, loyal, prophetic and a very brave teenager. She has been revered through the ages as the ultimate mother; a saint, in fact, and more: the Mother of God.
Like her son, she has inspired faith and reverence for more than 2,000 years and, like her son, has appeared many times, over the centuries ... to a young girl named Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in 1858, to a humble Indian named Juan Diego, near what is now Mexico City, in 1531, and reportedly to many in our own times, in forms that range from tears on a statue to an image on a tortilla.
Whatever the truth of the apparitions, no one can dispute that her story has provided inspiration through the centuries.
Who is the real Mary?
Like most of us, my memories of Mary date back to earliest childhood, to scenes of the nativity in churches and schools, and stories told in bible school lessons and elementary school pageants, back in the days when there were no barriers to religious displays in public schools.
I remember going to see an old movie, “The Song of Bernadette” with my cousins when we were little kids and having discussions about what we’d do if we saw Mary. We all hoped we would.
I still do. And somehow, in the Borderlands, particularly, and especially at this time of year, Mary seems very close to us all.
We see her image on banners and statues and shirts and dancers’ headpieces at the Guadalupe Fiesta celebrations at Tortugas and St. Genevieve’s. After 16 fiestas here, I still muse about why there was a rift between the two fiestas. This year, I’m saying a special little prayer to Maria —I’m sure it’s not the first — that they resolve their differences. But maybe it’s a way of spreading the attention we pay Our Lady, from the top of Tortugas Mountain to Downtown Las Cruces, where the first Our Lady feast day celebrations were held over a century ago. I’ve heard that God creates by establishing diversity which we must work to resolve.
There are so many art festivals honoring Mary here this year that I’ve termed this month Guadalupepalooza.
There’s an art show at the Branigan with photos of Guadalupe Festival celebrations and several shows that incorporate interpretations of the now famous Guadalupe image and regional screenings of a documentary about the festival.
And our oldest and newest galleries have December shows dedicated entirely to art inspired by Our Lady.
“Gualdalupe/Lupe/Lupita: Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Transmutation, Transformation, Transcendence” is the featured exhibit at the brand new Galería Tepín at 2220 Calle de Parian in Mesilla.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Art: A show of Guadalupes, religious symbols, churches, saints and crosses by 15 local artists runs though Dec. 31 at The Cutter Gallery, 2640 El Paseo Road.
I love the images and the pageants and music celebrating Mary, but somehow what always comes to mind is the very approachable young woman herself. Some traditions have it that she was an immaculate conception herself, groomed through eons of tradition among a devout community to fulfill her vision of bringing forth a savior.
Even so, I wonder at her bravery, welcoming a pregnancy that could leave her abandoned by her fiancé or even stoned to death if her condition came to light, or executed for blasphemy if she proclaimed her child the Savior and son of God.
The young mother and her husband courageously faced so many dilemmas. How to travel to a distant town and give birth in a stable at a time when the infant mortality rate was so high? How to escape to a foreign land to save your newborn baby from mass slaughter?
Even with supreme faith and the support of her community, even with the knowledge of what it would mean for mankind, how to reconcile mission and a mother’s heart, faced with the knowledge of the interim fate of a beloved child? How to prepare him for a mission that would involve cosmic trials and temptations and a brutal crucifixion? What mother would not rather be crucified herself than see her child suffer such agony and abuse? How to endure and transcend that, to keep the faith? How to support a risen Christ and Savior and nurture a young church?
Mary did. And maybe those moments we remember this month, the sages and shepherd and angels who came to visit a new mom and her firstborn in a sacred manger, helped strengthen and inspire her to endure as they inspire us today.
This week, as we dance and pray, make pilgrimages and pledges, as we sacrifice and celebrate, I will be remembering the woman who made the season of light possible. It will sound the same as I share the traditional joyful greeting, but I’ll be thinking: Mary Christmas.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.