Holiday Highlights

You Say Farolito, I Say Luminaria

Northern New Mexico residents call the state’s iconic holiday decorations farolitos, while southerners call them luminarias. But all agree that these simple, sand-weighted paper bags, each containing a lit votive candle, light the holidays with warmth and beauty. The tradition traveled here from Mexico, where residents lit candles to symbolize Mary and Joseph’s journey to seek shelter before the birth of Jesus. Get into the spirit by making an overnight trip out of one of these unique celebrations.

Double Feature: Farmington’s Riverglo and San Juan College

On November 30, the River Reach Foundation lines paths along a half-mile of the Animas River with 1,500 luminarias, beginning at Berg Park. From 6 to 8 p.m. visitors can take in the brisk air, serene environment, live nativity scene, and music by local bell and church choirs. The event is free, and the foundation sells hot chocolate and cider to benefit trail development. San Juan College decks out its campus with luminarias on December 1 at dusk. With more than 30,000 of the beauties aglow, it’s the largest noncorporate display in the state. The college radio station broadcasts carols across campus to accompany visitors on their walk. San Juan College: (505) 566-3403; sanjuancollege.edu. Riverglo: City of Farmington Recreation Dept., (505) 599-1401; River Reach Foundation; riverreachfoundation.com

Where to Stay and Dine: With its residential location  and courtyard gardens, Casa Blanca Inn provides an oasis from bustling holiday celebrations. Families should opt for The Cottage, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom casita with a full kitchen and private patio. From $129. 505 E. La Plata St. (505) 326-5680; 4cornersbandb.com

Three Rivers Brewery & Eatery serves comfort foods from a changing menu that may include items such as roasted pork tenderloin with pear chutney. A few doors down from the restaurant, the taproom serves seasonal brews and perennial favorites such as Arroyo Amber Ale. 101 E. Main St. (505) 324-2187; threeriversbrewery.com

Luminous by Bus: Albuquerque Luminaria Tour

Strolling down luminaria-lined paths may be a treat, but to take in these holiday decorations by the thousands, visitors can hop aboard City of Albuquerque buses for hour-long tours through the Country Club, Old Town, and Los Altos neighborhoods, as well as the lights of Civic Plaza at the conclusion of the loop. On Christmas Eve, six tours depart from the Convention Center, one leaving every 25 minutes, beginning at 5:20 p.m. Tickets go on sale online at midnight on Thanksgiving and sell out within a week, so book early. Adult tickets are $3, children ride free of charge. cabq.gov/transit/programs-and-projects/special-events/luminaria-tour

Where to Stay and Dine: Just two blocks from Old Town, Casas de Sueños comprises 21 casitas set around a garden courtyard, each with a full kitchen and outside entrances—accommodations well suited to families looking for a home away from home for the holidays. From $139. 310 Rio Grande Blvd. SW. (505) 247-4560; casasdesuenos.com

The cozy High Noon Restaurant in Old Town will serve a menu of six to seven entrées from 5 to 10 p.m. Christmas Eve. Last year’s menu included an organic tomahawk (oversized) pork chop with horseradish mashed potatoes, and goat cheese– and lobster-stuffed top sirloin. Guests shouldn’t miss a photo op with the upside-down Christmas tree, a holiday staple at the restaurant for 24 years. Reservations required. 425 San Felipe St. NW. (505) 765-1455; highnoonrestaurant.com

Lake Effect: Elephant Butte Lake

State Park Beach Walk

For nearly two decades, the town and state park at New Mexico’s largest lake have celebrated Christmas with a Beach Walk. On December 8, from 5 to 8 p.m., more than 4,000 luminarias will line a path guiding visitors to 25 campsites sponsored by local businesses. At some campsites visitors gather at bonfires to sing carols, at others they sip cider, nibble cookies, and savor posole. At 6:30 p.m., boats decked out in holiday splendor create a floating parade of lights through the marina. All activities are free; the State Park entrance fee of $5 applies.

Where to Stay and Dine: The Elephant Butte Inn and Spa offers 45 contemporary guest rooms and an on-site spa with a full treatment menu. Visitors who don’t fill up at the Beach Walk can dine at the hotel’s Ivory Tusk Restaurant and Tavern, which serves New Mexican cuisine as well as steak and seafood. From $89.95. 401 N.M. 195. (575) 744-5431; elephantbutteinn.com

Yule Among the Ruins:

Jemez State Monument

One of three state monuments offering luminaria walks (along with Fort Selden and Coronado), Jemez State Monument will line its pathways with more than 1,000 luminarias. Explore the more-than-400-year-old remains of the Giusewa Native village and the San José de los Jemez church by candlelight on December 15 from 5 to 8:30 p.m., for free. Buffalo Dancers from the Pueblo of Jemez will also perform. The evening coincides with the town of Jémez Springs’s holiday celebrations, which include hay-wagon rides from the center of town to the monument and back, an electric light parade, a concert in the park, and caroling around a Christmas tree from the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve. (575) 829-3530; nmmonuments.org

Where to Stay and Dine:Cañon del Río Bed and Breakfast offers six comfortable Southwest-style guest rooms along the river bosque. Visitors should plan a massage or time in the dry sauna at the on-site spa. From $139. 16445 N.M. 4. (575) 829-4377; canondelrio.com

Usually open only for breakfast and lunch, Highway 4 Coffee House will serve dinner the night of December 15. Save room for dessert—the piñon torte is my favorite. 17502 N.M. 4. (575) 829-4655

Artful Wander:Canyon Road in Santa Fe

Beginning at dusk on Christmas Eve, Santa Feans stroll along Canyon Road among more than 100 shops and galleries along this mile-long stretch. Farolitos line the route and celebrants carol around small bonfires. The galleries serve wine and hot chocolate and welcome visitors to peruse the fine art—or just warm themselves up! (800) 777-2489; santafe.org

Where to Stay and Dine: The stacked adobe of the Inn and Spa at Loretto is also aglow with farolitos in December. This sophisticated Southwest hotel’s location is prime: two blocks from Canyon Road and one block from the Plaza. On Christmas Eve, Matthew Andrae will play guitar in the lobby, and the hotel will offer drink specials to warm travelers just in from caroling. From $209. 211 Old Santa Fe Trail. (505) 988-5531; innatloretto.com

Situated a block from the Inn and Canyon Road, 315 Restaurant and Wine Bar serves French bistro-style fare in a cozy environment. The fine-dining restaurant’s Christmas Eve menu may include appetizers such as basil-wrapped shrimp with apricot chutney and entrées such as rack of venison with truffle corn flan. 315 Old Santa Fe Trail. (505)
986-9190; 315santafe.com

Nautical Navidad: Christmas on the Pecos

Yes, candlelit paper bags dot this tour along the Pecos River in Carlsbad, but the true stars are the twinkling electric-light displays at more than 100 private homes. A fleet of four boats captained by Carlsbad Naval officers takes passengers on 40-minute-long rides through still waters to view backyards and boat docks illuminated with nativity scenes. The cruises sail a dozen times per night, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Eve (with the exception of Christmas Eve). Children’s tickets are $7.50 Sunday–Thursday and $12.50 Friday and Saturday. Adults’ tickets are $12.50 Sunday–Thursday and $17.50 Friday and Saturday. (575) 887-6516; christmasonthepecos.com

Where to Stay and Dine: A boutique hotel with memorable style, The Trinity Hotel is located in a red-brick former First National Bank Building dating to 1892. The nine sleek guest rooms include a 1,100-square-foot suite in the bank safe. From $149. 201 S. Canal St. (575) 234-9891; thetrinityhotel.com

The Trinity Hotel’s in-house restaurant serves Italian dishes and steaks, and The Stock Exchange in Old City Hall is another top dining option. Menu items include steak and seafood with spicy Southwestern flair, with entrées such as tenderloin tips topped with roasted green chile and aged cheddar. 220 W. Fox St. (575) 725-5444;
thestockexchangenm.com

Ashley M. Biggers is a guide-book author and contributing editor at this magazine.