Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Cruces

It's Christmas in Cruces, and the town's southwestern flare is as alive as ever!  In lieu of lighted holly and candy cane designs, chile pepper decorations hug downtown lampposts.  Greetings on community signs read "Feliz Navidad," not "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" as you might expect. 

Although new to me, "Dónde Está Santa Claus" is a popular carol played on the local Cruces radio station, and tamales is a traditional dish served at Christmas celebrations and dinners.  Other favorite holiday eats include green and red chile stew, posole and New Mexico's official state cookie, the biscochito.



The temperature frequently drops below freezing in Las Cruces, but limited moisture allows for only light dustings.  However, a gentle flurry would be a welcomed change to the feet upon feet of snow we got buried under during Maryland's blizzards last winter (¡Ay, caramba!).  So, we've got our fingers crossed in hopes of catching a mild, yet gratifying New Mexico snowfall soon.  

Although rare, you may come across small bonfires blazing along roads and mountainsides in New Mexico during late December.  These bonfires, or “luminarias,” as they’re called in Spanish, were commonly lit during the 1800's in honor of the Mexican Christmas celebration called Las Posadas.  Symbolizing the epic journey of Mary and Joseph on the night of Jesus' birth, bonfires were built to light a path to midnight Mass. 

In later days, luminaries replaced bonfires.  The small paper bags holding a candle set in sand are known in Spanish as farolitos, or "little lanterns."  A procession of Catholics playing the role of pilgrims would sing carols and carry luminaries as they traveled from house to house in search of lodging, while neighbors acted as innkeepers.  Today, luminaries are used to line many a driveway, street, roof and sidewalk, creating gorgeous, glowing displays in New Mexico cities and neighborhoods.

My recent Cruces residency has put quite a unique twist on my traditional and rather routine idea of Christmas.  It has been very interesting to see how they "do" the holidays in the southwest.  Nevertheless, I'm really looking forward to the Christmas I've lived and loved every holiday season in Florida since I was just a little girl.