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Santa Fe in Spanish means “holy faith,” and so it is fitting that Santa Fe, New Mexico is a true Christmas destination. Like other more well known Christmas destinations, Santa Fe has all the magic, the lights, and the joy of the season. However, the Christmas celebrations in Santa Fe are also deeply rooted in faith, history, and culture. What you will experience in Santa Fe at Christmas is beautiful, authentic, and spiritual. Here are some tips on how to enjoy a southwest Christmas in Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe Plaza
The center of a Christmas visit to Santa Fe is the beautifully lighted Plaza in the center of this 400-year-old historic town. Surrounding the Plaza are shops with Christmas displays in their windows. Under the portal of the Palace of the Governors, Native American vendors sell authentic jewelry and pottery each day no matter how cold the weather gets. You can shop ‘til you drop for dressy Western boots, turquoise jewelry, and Navajo weavings. Be sure and duck into side streets and little indoor malls to find clothing boutiques and more Native American jewelry.
Be sure and stop in to see Susan’s Christmas Shop on East Palace Avenue. Susan has a store full of collectible ornaments from around the world. Locally she selects ornaments that are New Mexico themed and made from pottery. She also sells nativities from the surrounding pueblos. Susan is an expert on Christmas in Santa Fe and has written a beautifully illustrated books, Christmas in Santa Fe and Nativities of the Southwest.
The Palace of the Governors, on one side of the Plaza, is also the place to see Las Posadas. Hundreds of people attended the event, which presents a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Consult the city’s Calendar of Events for the date.
Anchoring the Plaza is historic La Fonda, a gathering place and inn throughout the history of Santa Fe. You can enjoy a meal, listen to music, savor a great Margarita, or enjoy a Christmas stay at La Fonda. La Fonda has Santa Fe ambiance and true warmth emanating from lobby fireplaces during the winter. Enjoy the art and history as you relax in the lobby or bar.
Canyon Road on Christmas Eve
You can take the Farolito Walk up quaint Canyon Road and end the evening by attending Mass at the Cathedral/Basilica of Saint Francis, one block from the Plaza.
Most people head to downtown and to Canyon Road for Christmas Eve. It is best to arrive by 5 or 5:30 p.m. The walkers start at the base of Canyon Road where it meets Paseo de Peralta. Join the walkers on Canyon Road enjoying the farolitos, warm yourself by the bonfires, and sing Christmas carols.
When walking through the town, you will frequently see sidewalks decorated with luminarias. Luminarias are small paper lanterns traditional to the holidays in the Southwest. You can get luminarias to brighten your own home here.
Window-shop the galleries and enjoy an evening on pedestrian-friendly, narrow Canyon Road. Christmas Eve on Canyon Road is not to be missed. Go just as night falls, it quickly becomes filled with other bustling holiday season enthusiasts.
After enjoying that scene, and feeling chilled from the brisk winter night, head to a local restaurant for dinner. Consider making reservations ahead of time to ensure a good seat to see all the comings and goings.
Find the Unexpected
When you spend Christmas in Santa Fe look for opportunities. Whether it is a snowfall that brings you the opportunity to walk, ski, or play in a winter wonderland or listen to musicians on a street corner. Slow your pace and savor the true meaning of Christmas.
If you are invited to a local celebration, don’t hesitate. One evening I was invited to a small mission church just outside Santa Fe. Nuestra Senora de la Luz is an often photographed and painted historic chapel that serves people that can’t easily travel to the main church in Pecos, NM. On this special evening, I drove down an icy dead-end road and encountered bonfires lighting up the adobe facade of the church.
As I carefully made my way to the door, musicians with guitars were getting ready for Las Posadas, a re-enactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter in Bethlehem. Sitting in lights from candles and lanterns, in the cold adobe church and watching local children portray Mary and Joseph was a special treat. We gave the traditional responses in Spanish as the re-enactment progressed. The service ended with a home-cooked meal. I felt that I had found the true spirit of Christmas in this little church.
Where to Stay
Christmas is a popular time in Santa Fe. Ideally, you will make plans early enough to be able to get a room at a hotel near the Plaza. La Fonda, Inn on the Alameda, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe, and La Posada de Santa Fe are some of my favorites. They are traditional yet elegant.
Enjoy the Holidays in Santa Fe
As you walk through town notice that most of the rooftops are lined with farolitos and luminarias giving the whole town a cheerful glow. Saturdays you can go to the Farmer’s Market at The Railyard. Farmers make decorations out of red chiles and straw. Check the Santa Fe Calendar of Events for musical, religious, and arts events. For more ideas on traveling in Santa Fe and New Mexico by Wander Writers have a look at our New Mexico section.