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New Mexico is rich with Spanish and Mexican history, which has shaped the holidays in our state. Early European missionaries taught the natives the story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter and of Jesus’ birth. Later in the 18th Century, early New Mexico settlers established themselves along the Rio Grande and they celebrated Christmas by religiously observing what was called a novenario, a symbolic observance.
These festivities are now known collectively as Las Posadas, a nine-day celebration from December 16th to December 24th, representing the nine months Jesus was in the womb. New Mexicans today typically celebrate the Posadas on Christmas Eve where it has since moved from churchyards to neighborhood parties acted out by groups of carolers dressed up like Mary, Joseph and angels who sing songs begging to be let inside. The neighbors usually sing back a response and offer them shelter in their homes where they all celebrate the special birth with more music and, of course, food.
Holiday foods in this region most frequently consist of:
• Tamales - a savory dish; made with corn-based masa dough, which is typically stuffed with shredded pork. The little package is wrapped in a corn husk and steamed until it’s cooked and is usually topped with red chile sauce when served.
• Posole - resembles a soup made with hominy; a specific type of large corn kernel without its hull. This dish has various recipes, but is most often made with pork or chicken and red or green chile.
• Red and green chile stew - this depends on preference; refer to our official state question for more details.
• Biscochitos - a cookie made with lard and flavored with cinnamon and anise
• Pastelitos - little pies with sweet fillings of reconstituted dried fruits and spices
New Mexicans pass holiday recipes such as these from generation to generation as a way to keep their holiday traditions alive.
Traditions may include star-shaped piñatas, as well as a lighted path of luminarias to their church for midnight mass. Many churches, families and neighborhoods around Albuquerque decorate their dwelling and business exteriors with luminarias for the holidays. The largest display takes place on Christmas Eve in the Old Town Plaza and Country Club neighborhood. Luminarias (sometimes called farolitos) or “little lanterns,” are nothing more than hand-folded brown paper bags filled with sand and a single votive candle. When they line the walkways by the hundreds throughout the plaza, their simple light transforms into an impressive and welcoming glow, leading to the historic San Felipe de Neri Church and its Christmas Eve mass. Luminarias are often used to decorate homes before a holiday gathering or party. Spectators enjoy the annual tradition of a stroll through the magnificent holiday light display, or a driving tour through Old Town and the nearby Country Club neighborhood.
Throughout New Mexico you will see vibrant red hanging chiles called "ristras." These decorative strings of chiles are especially common during the holiday season after a new chile crop has come in during the fall.
As the festivities continue, another widely popular Albuquerque event is The River of Lights at the ABQ BioPark-Botanic Gardens. Many light and sound engineers have constructed remarkable displays from millions of twinkle lights, a dazzling accomplishment for all to enjoy. This evening outing is fun for family and friends and truly impresses with hundreds of displays, all in keeping with the holidays and BioPark theme of flora and fauna. Walking along more than a mile and a half of the garden’s pathways, there are numerous large and small displays working together in a stunning display of light and movement. You can see the River of Lights from Thanksgiving weekend through December 30; closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.