Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holidays in the Land of Enchantment

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — If you feel Scroogish about this merry season, it may be because you’ve never experienced the holidays in the Land of Enchantment.
Christmas in New Mexico is like nothing else on the planet. And Hanukah and Kwanzaa have their own special flavor here, too.
It’s time again for our annual milagro fusion of sacred rites that inspire joy with creative and touching Southwestern traditions that conjure up sentiments ranging from awe and wonder to amazed amusement.
Here are a few of my favorite Mesilla Valley holiday things.
La Posta’s 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 (if we have a rare December snowstorm) with red chile noses. Giant roadrunner sculptures made out of recycled trash, glittering with twinkle lights. Ristras and reindeer sharing porch space. The glow of luminarias and the aroma of piñon fires.
Gathering with amigos on Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza. Watching dancers in feather bonnets and Our Lady of Guadalupe tunics at Tortugas Pueblo. Yucca pod wreaths and tumbleweed Christmas trees.
There are some one-performance-only memories, like watching grandson Alexander the Great sing “The 12 Days of New Mexico Christmas” with his Hillrise Elementary school classmates. It’s a great production number and I hope they’re still doing it. If you get a chance to catch a local holiday school pageant, don’t miss it.
Then there’s the fun of figuring out the many ways red and green can make our season bright. I’m talking chiles here. I learned to make (and appreciate) homemade holiday tamales at Denise Chávez’s workshop with the Grijalva family at La Cochina Restaurant. At Carmen Garza’s house one Christmas, I was introduced to the wonder of turkey and mashed potatoes with red chile gravy. (I contributed my own holiday chile invention: cranberry-green chile sauce.)
I’ve seen new traditions born and old traditions revived, like La Posada on the Downtown Mall. Amigos who grew up here told me it’s like a Christmas version of trick or treat. As kids, they went from house to house asking if there was room at the inn, and were rewarded with tamales and biscochitos and all kinds of goodies.
In recent years, La Posada and gone public on the Downtown Mall, sometimes with a Holy Family, a donkey borrowed from the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, and singing followed by goodies and a piñata.
“Los Pastores” plays, an ancient ritual with deep roots in the Mesilla Valley, were started here half a century ago by a group of Mesilla families who are determined to keep it alive.
For me, Mesilla is the corazon of celebrations both transcendent and sometimes, a bit eccentric. (The aforementioned holiday piranhas at La Posta, for instance, and our favorite outlaw keeping vigil with his trusty gun under a lovely nativity scene perched on the roof of the Billy the Kid Gift Shop.)
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. Josefina’s daughter, Kathleen Foreman, transformed her late mom’s adobe home into one of the region’s loveliest lunch and tea rooms where the famed Josefina’s Gate remains a favorite gathering sport for holiday photos.
And now we have Christmas SuperFriday and Winterfest, which debuted a few years ago and demonstrated what a delight our downtown area can become.
Catch as much as you can of this enchanted season in our enchanted land. Happy holidays.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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