Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Treasuring Christmas in the Valley

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Whatever the rest of the year has been like, there’s something about Christmas in the Mesilla Valley that will always rejuvenate your spirit.
After two decades of New Mexico holidays, I’ve never been disappointed. Each year, there is always a special moment — sometimes a lot of special moments — worthy of the lifetime memory box.
This year, the big one has been a visit from my son Ryan, who finished up a job in California early and was able to make it here for our first extended holiday together in many years. Celebrating Christmas early or late is something we had to get used to during his showbiz years, first touring with his band and in recent years producing and managing a crew to put up spectacular holiday light shows in the Pacific Northwest.
Even the challenging moments are memorable. I got cold, wet and windblown during Winterfest 2011, which I was tempted to dub “la noche de several thousand soggy brown paper bags,” but I was amazed how many luminarias our dauntless volunteers managed to light and maintain in spite of it all.
I also enjoyed talking with some of those who’ve nurtured one of my favorite traditions: Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza. Lalo Natividad talked about what it’s like this time of year to have a name that means “nativity” in Spanish.
Instead of the traditional holiday greeting, “Feliz Navidad,” friends sometimes wish him “Feliz Natividad,” he said, which he interprets as, “Happy me!”
Phone calls, cards, emails and letters recall heartwarming New Mexico holidays with people I’m missing this Christmas.
Grandson Alex the Great is in Idaho this year, but I have lots of fond recollections of holidays here with him, from his footed-pajama toddler years to preteen marathon present-unwrapping romps with his cousins.
I remember magical Mesilla Plaza celebrations with Cecilia Lewis and her husband, Alexis Bespaloff, in Alexis’ last years. One year, they both showed up wearing burgundy scarves I’d knitted for them and Cecilia had arranged to set up headquarters at a cozy table at the Double Eagle. We had dinner and went in and out to enjoy the plaza carolers and photograph the lights.
I’ve shared English crackers (filled with toys and silly paper hats) and flaming plum puddings with my British friends here, and sweet tamales and red chile mashed potatoes and green chile turkey enchiladas with inventive native New Mexican amigos.
I love checking out uniquely Southwestern ornaments and Christmas trees at shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies, art galleries, museums, markets and bazaars.
Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me without two crucial stops.
First is a visit to Tortugas Pueblo during Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival. The pilgrimage is a not-to-be-missed experience, I’ve found, and I have vivid, fond memories of their warm welcome to a newcomer my first year here. I’m always there to photograph days of dancing on Dec. 12 and Jan. 1, and this year loved seeing generations of the Fierro family working together to prepare the albondigas feast for the community.
The second “must” is a visit to Mesilla to see new decorations and old favorites, and it’s great having visitors to give me an excuse for return trips.
This year, I added some Josefina’s Gate portraits to the family Christmas album, and found my son shared my appreciation of some unique personal Mesilla favorites: the Nativity scene overlooking the image of our famed desperado at the Billy the Kid Gift Shop and the piranha swimming in his tank, surrounded by Borderland fiesta Christmas decor at La Posta.
There’s a lot to see and do and remember for many busy weeks, right up to Christmas Eve markets, caroling, plaza luminarias and midnight services at area churches.
Christmas itself is private family time for most Las Crucens, a wonderful day to close our ristra-decked doors, gather before our piñon-scented fires and enjoy a special celebration with those closest to us, and maybe some newcomer friends.
May your day be rich with love and memories of holidays past and present. Merry Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450.

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