Call them luminarias, call them farolitos, or just call them beautiful—New Mexico’s signature holiday lights are dazzling. Albuquerque is the first to flip the switch on the season with the River of Lights, a walk through extravaganza featuring hundreds of light-up sculptures, many of them animated. The show runs November 30 to January 5 (505-724-3100; In the first week of December, Taos lights up its historic arts walkway, Ledoux Street (575-758-9826; Luminarias line the riverbanks at the Farmington Riverglo on December 5 (505-326-7602; farmingtonnm. org), the same evening that Albuquerque’s Old Town Holiday Stroll draws thousands to Plaza Don Luis for lights, live entertainment, and shopping (505-842-9918; On December 6, Cloudcroft dresses up its pets for an afternoon costume parade that leads into the yearly Lighted Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting (575- 682-2733; A whopping 4,000 luminarias show visitors the way from the highway to riverside bonfires and a “floating parade of lights” at the Elephant Butte Luminaria Beachwalk, held December 13 (575-740-1777; Also that night, Jemez Historic Site hosts Light Among the Ruins, featuring music, Native dances, bonfires, and farolitos that bring the remains of Giusewa Pueblo and San José de los Jémez Mission to life (575-829-3530; But the state’s candlelight tradition never burns brighter than on Christmas Eve: Mesilla gathers for Christmas carols and luminarias—plus free hot chocolate from local restaurants—on its plaza (575- 524-3262 ext. 116;; the ABQ RIDE Luminaria Tour shuttles visitors on a loop from Albuquerque’s downtown Convention Center to take in the city’s seasonal display (505-724-3100; cabq. gov); and the Farolito Walk attracts Santa Feans by the hundreds to Canyon Road for flickering lanterns and holiday togetherness.

Musical groups and theater troupes deck the state’s performance halls this month with a lively seasonal schedule. At Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall, the colors red, white, and green are doubly relevant during Mariachi Christmas (December 13). The show features Ballet Folklorico Paso del Norte performing posadas and other dances to the bright brass and swooning strings of Mariachi Aguila De Aztlán, whose repertoire includes holiday music from both sides of the border (505-277-3824; Nearby, Albuquerque Little Theatre brings back its popular production of White Christmas (December 5–24), a Broadway adaptation of the beloved movie. For the classical crowd, Santa Fe Pro Musica plays Handel, Vivaldi, and traditional carols in A Baroque Christmas, December 19–24 (505-988-4640 ext. 1000;, while the Lensic Christmas Eve Concert features Tchaikovsky from the Performance Santa Fe Orchestra and Gershwin played by the 13-year-old virtuoso pianist Emily Bear (505- 988-7050; November 21–December 7, Las Cruces’ No Strings Theatre Company goes down-home for the holidays with the small-town comedy A Tuna Christmas (575-523-1223; And the season would hardly be complete without New Mexico Ballet Company’s Nutcracker (November 29–December 7) at Popejoy Hall, accompanied by the New Mexico Philharmonic. (505) 292-4245;

A lump of coal’s not often linked to Christmas cheer, but for the onetime mining town of Madrid, sitting on a heap of the stuff was a gift. In the 1920s, when local coal production was at its peak, miners converted free electricity into a holiday display of epic proportions. “This entire town was so bright that airplanes would fly over to see the lights,” says Lori Lindsey, owner of the Mine Shaft Tavern. In recent years the tradition has been revived. Beginning with a parade on the first Saturday of the month, the town’s population swells from a couple hundred into the thousands on the weekends as visitors turn out for shopping on the lively Main Street, music, and, of course, Christmas lights. “Every single home and business lights up,” Lindsey says. “It’s really intense.” (505) 473-0743;


To stay level during the holiday crunch, it helps to be reminded of things that have survived Christmases past. The Las Vegas Holiday Historic Home Tour, held December 5, offers an attractive perspective on the state’s history, with a peek inside some of its statelier edifices. To participate in the self-guided tour, simply stop by the local Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation office to pick up a ticket and map, then head to any or all of the five to eight finely preserved buildings on the list. Several are private residences dating to around the turn of the twentieth century; others, such as the Plaza Hotel, are even older. All will be decorated for the holidays and will offer hors d’oeuvres or drinks to visitors. (505) 425-8803;

True to the unassuming spirit of the state’s sneaky-good viticulture, one organizer of the Carlsbad Winter Wine Festival describes it as “not a real big event, but the town seems to have embraced it.” That embrace turns out to be a group bear hug: Some 1,500 oenophiles turn out for Saturday’s main event. For a $12 admission ($10 in advance), attendees receive a glass good for samples from around 10 regional wine producers, whose bottles are also available to buy. For pairing purposes, the couple dozen additional vendors on hand sell foods like artisanal cheeses, as well as jewelry and other convenient holiday gifts (575-522-1232; Stick around all weekend to make time for a holiday-light boat ride at Christmas on the Pecos, which runs from November 28 through December 31. (575) 628-0952;

The towering sandstone cliffs of Gallup’s Red Rock Park provide a striking backdrop for the 200 or so hot-air balloons at the Red Rock Balloon Rally. In addition to hosting morning mass ascensions, which afford plenty of crewing opportunities for visitors not content to spectate, the park is the site of a balloon glow and Native dances on Friday night and other events throughout the weekend. The action’s also in town, though, as some balloons lift off Friday morning directly over the city. Gallup’s Community Christmas Parade, on Saturday afternoon, is followed by the rally’s “Balloominaria” glow at Rio West Mall that night. (505) 722-2228;

Tortugas, today an unincorporated enclave of Las Cruces, got its supposedly chelonian shape when Pueblo Indians seeking freedom to celebrate the Virgin built the village of Guadalupe across from the existing village of San Juan de Dios. For over a century since, the village’s united halves have hosted Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta, New Mexico’s largest celebration of Nuestra Señora’s sacred day. Beginning with an all-night vigil on December 10, the festival continues the next morning with a four-mile pilgrimage up Tortugas Mountain. On December 12, there’s a morning mass followed by a traditional feast of albondigas (meatballs), red chile with meat, beans, and Indian bread. Four Native dance groups participate. (575)-526-8171;

After two straight high-scoring thrillers, the 2014 Gildan New Mexico Bowl has a lot to live up to. Excitement is pretty much guaranteed, though: The December 20 game day marks the kickoff of college bowl season, and with tens of thousands of fans expected to pack UNM’s University Stadium in Albuquerque, it’s one of the state’s biggest gridiron spectacles. This year’s matchup will feature teams from the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA vying for a trophy that’s authentic Zia Pueblo pottery, emblazoned with the state symbol. And for the losers? Hey, they still got a holiday vacation to the Land of Enchantment. (505) 925-5999;