ON A WINTRY MORNING in downtown Santa Fe, a handsome man strolls past the Cathedral Basilica and pauses before turning to his companion. “There’s nothing like Santa Fe at Christmastime,” he says.

Although the 2021 Lifetime movie Holiday in Santa Fe, starring Mario Lopez, gets certain things wrong about the city (there’s no annual Yuletide ham toss on the Santa Fe Plaza, for instance), Lopez’s character is right about the immaculate holiday vibes.

Maybe the season in Santa Fe starts the night after Thanksgiving, when crowds gather downtown for the flip of a switch that sets the Plaza ablaze with thousands of twinkly holiday lights. Or maybe it really starts on Christmas Eve, when flickering farolitos guide visitors past bonfires and merry-making carolers on Canyon Road. But whether it’s December or June in the City Different, there’s always a little holiday spirit on East Palace Avenue, where Susan’s Christmas Shop and The Shop: A Christmas Store sit across the street from each other like year-round Elves on the Shelf.

Janice and Rick Griego turned an antique emporium into a Christmas store in 1990. Photograph by Tira Howard.

According to Susan Weber, owner of Susan’s, the best way to gauge how close you are to the holidays is by watching traffic at the beloved New Mexican restaurant The Shed. “The closer it gets to Christmas, the more people you see waiting to get in,” Weber says of her longtime neighbor. Celebrating its 45th year this December, Susan’s is full of treasures from near and far. Seasonal standbys like hand-painted glass ornaments and peppermint pigs share space with sleek and contemporary Zuni nativity sets carved from elk antlers.

As one of 10 kids in an Army family, Weber grew up loving Christmas. Soon after moving to Santa Fe in the late 1960s, she took a dough ornament-making class on a whim. “Within a month, I was selling dough ornaments to local stores, then participating in juried shows,” says Weber. “I have work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.” Her creative prowess led to the holiday store’s opening in 1978. Since then, Weber has had two rules for curating her shop: “I have to like it,” she says, “and it has to be homemade.”

Find any tree ornament you can imagine—and many you can’t—at Susan’s Christmas Shop, in Santa Fe. Photograph by Tira Howard.

Just across East Palace Avenue at The Shop: A Christmas Store, owners Janice and Rick Griego work all year long to share holiday joy with visitors. “We keep the spirit alive by helping people commemorate their time in New Mexico,” says Janice. “Getting to talk to people from all over the world is really special.”

The store, which opened as an antique emporium in the late seventies before becoming a dedicated Christmas store in 1990, is home to a breathtaking number of ornaments—many handmade by local artists—that adorn dozens of trees.

For the Griegos, both of whom grew up in New Mexico, what makes the holidays special is gathering to celebrate local traditions. “At Christmastime, my mom set up a small table for mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing,” says Janice.  “And then a big table for sopaipillas, beans, posole, tamales, and chile—you know, all the good stuff.”

Read more: Christmas is a 365-day affair at these stores. 

115 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe; 505-983-2127

TOP SELLER: Santa Claus ornaments crafted from real dried green chile peppers, made by artisan Melissa Weber. NATIVE SPOTLIGHT: Susan’s carries work made by artists from 10 pueblos as well as Navajo and Apache artists. AUTHOR CHOPS: Susan Weber wrote the book on Christmas in Santa Fe. Now in its sixth printing, Christmas in Santa Fe (Gibbs Smith, 2010) makes a delightful gift. MUST-DO IN NEW MEXICO: “I tell visitors to go to Native feast days,” says Weber, who notes that many pueblos have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations. “A lot of traditional pueblo feasts feature dancing and singing that you can’t experience anywhere but here in New Mexico.”

116 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe; 505-983-4823

LOCAL ARTISTS: 45. DECORATED CHRISTMAS TREES: 44. NUMBER OF ORNAMENTS: “Thousands,” says Janice Griego. “Way too many to count.” CHRISTMAS MEMORY: “Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was such a special thing to experience as a kid,” says Rick Griego, who grew up attending the Santuario of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Santa Fe. “Traditionally, the farolitos lit the path for the Christ child and the luminarias [small bonfires] offered Him warmth and rest.”