Memories of a Santa Fe Christmas |

Memories of a Santa Fe Christmas

Margaret Melloy Guziak

We have fond memories of the four years we lived in our flat-roofed, adobe style, Santa Fe home on Paseo de Tularosa. Named “the city different,” Santa Fe deserves its title for a variety of reasons. It is a city of three cultures: Pueblo Indians, Spanish and Anglo but it is not “a melting pot.”

Instead, as someone once described – it is like a woven tapestry where each thread keeps its own identity, but blends with the others. Their distinctive architecture of flat-roofed, adobe homes, galleries and major hotels is treasured, preserved and mandated by zoning codes. The exception is the Cathedral of St. Francis, built by French Bishop Lamy from 1869-84. It is patterned after Notre Dame Cathedral in France.

One of my favorite remembrances is strolling downtown Santa Fe on cold nights where the edges of rooftops and pathways were illuminated by luminaries (or farolitos) during the Christmas season. The holiday festivities were tied to the aroma of pine and pinion trees, sweet-smelling, smoldering candles, the decorations, and the radiant glow of wood-burning, round-topped, kiva fireplaces built in corners of cafes. When you walked into the warm interiors of cafes, these inspiring fragrances, paired with the appetite-teasing flavors emanating from the kitchens – setting the celebratory holiday mood.

Whenever I recall our Santa Fe Christmases, I remember tasting for the first time the delicious northern New Mexico foods and learning to pronounce their Spanish names. When our office had potlucks, the casseroles were fantastic. Virginia’s posole would bring a sweat to your brow but you still couldn’t wait to spoon out another serving onto your plate, together with more cheese enchiladas, blue corn tortillas or a quesadilla. Fantastic northern New Mexico food!

Santa Fe Christmases are non-commercial. Instead, they center on their glorious, spicy food, superb art, traditional music, including magical guitars. Santa Feans dwell on one’s home and the closeness of family and friends through food and song, especially at the holiday season. And they realize the importance of honoring religion, folklore and ancient traditions by celebrating them proudly in colorful pageants and songs.

Besides having the most magnificent sunsets in the world, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a place of contrasts. When we lived there, burly, cowboy ranch owner, Bruce King from Stanley, New Mexico, was the governor, while Roberto Mondragon, singer and storyteller from Guadalupe County, was the lieutenant governor. I remember listening and watching Lt. Gov. Roberto Mondragon serenade Mrs. Robert Kennedy and others near the Plaza fountain downtown on his guitar. Ethel was in town to visit her daughter, Kathleen, and her family who resided in a small nearby town.

One of the most charming and unique pageants is Las Posadas, which is a re-enactment of Joseph and Mary looking for shelter for their child to be born. Mariachi musicians, with onlookers following them in their walk, accompany the actors in their search for a place to live before Christmas Eve. It usually is repeated for nine days.

Take a walk up Canyon Road to personally experience the calming influence of unique, magnificent art displays in the world-famous, decorated art galleries.

Learn some “Santa Fe words” and their pronunciation before you visit, although Santa Feans are always very gracious in explaining things to you.

Here are some that I found useful:

New Mexico towns around Santa Fe:

• Teseque (TEZ OOO-KEY)

• Madrid (MAD DRID) Emphasize the first syllable (unlike Madrid, Spain)

• Espanola (ES PAN YOLA)

• Chimayo (CHEE-MY-O)

• Abiqui (AB-EE-Q) – 50 miles from Santa Fe and it’s the adopted home of the famous artist, Georgia O’Keefe.


• Bizcochitos (BIS CO CHEA-TOES) – Anise-flavored, small cookies.

• Posole (PO-SOUL-E) – A pork and hominy stew.

• Quesadillas (K-SA-DEE-AHS) – Folded-over flour tortillas, containing cheese and salsa, cooked on a grill.

Art and other things:

• Retablos (RE-TAUB-LOS) – Bright religious paintings on rectangular pieces of painted wood.

• Conquistadors (CON-KEYS-STA-DOORS) – Spanish soldiers who officially claimed Santa Fe for Spain in the 1600’s. They brought their art and customs with them.

• Vigas (VEE-GAHS) – Ceiling wooden beams extending to outside walls.

• Kivas (KEY-VAHS) – Small stucco fireplaces, placed in corner of room. Original ones were built of adobe with small, almost circular opening and curved top and sides, similar to a beehive.

• Pinion (PIN-YON) – A type of aromatic pine tree burned in kiva fireplaces.

• Luminaries or farolitos (LOOM-IN-AR-IAS or FAIR-O-LEE-TOES) – Originally they were lit candles inside sand-filled, paper bags. This is a traditional decoration to light the way for Mary and Joseph to your home.

• Mariachi musicians (MAR-E-ACH-E) – Street bands that perform and play Mexican folk music using stringed instruments of violins and guitars, blended with woodwinds and brass horns.

• Feliz Navidad (FA-LEASE-NAV-E-DODD) – Merry Christmas.

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