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Chanelle Jaeger and her grandfather, Leonard Vigil, in 2007.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is undoubtedly the most magical time of the year.

Since I could walk, I have gone to this spectacular event with my loved ones each year. Years ago, sitting on his shoulders as he was my guide, my grandfather showed me this new world unraveling before my eyes: colorful shapes filling up the endless New Mexico sky. The magic held true up until 2020, better known as the notorious year of canceled events worldwide. To my dismay, the Balloon Fiesta in our beautiful state was one such event.

I was heartbroken at this revelation during the pandemic. How could such a staple event be canceled, after a 48-year streak? Although I understood that COVID-19 safety was the top priority, as all New Mexicans and those involved in the event need to stay safe and healthy, the idea of not being able to feel this same childhood awe was extremely disappointing. I realized that the tradition our family holds so dear was not going to be missed.

This year, I was able to find that magic again as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s breathtaking balloons rose in the beautiful New Mexico sky with the Sandia Mountains as the backdrop. On Sunday, in the chilly early morning, my family and I drove to Albuquerque to catch the festively decorated Park and Ride bus so we could have a safe and stress-free way to take part in the fiesta.

I did notice many people in the large crowds weren’t wearing masks, as it was an outdoor event, but the Balloon Fiesta staff put my fears at ease. The wonder that I felt looking up at the awe-inspiring balloons as my grandfather held me on his back as a child, was experienced once again as we walked together with our feet on the ground and our heads in the clouds. Ultimately the ticket price of $22 per person was worth it.

I loved browsing the souvenir vendor tents for the unique enamel balloon pins freshly made each year, which are unavailable for purchase anywhere else. When I look at my collection of pins, it allows me to reflect on memories from past years.

That morning, the yellow and red “Zia’’ balloon representing New Mexico soared higher than the others, holding the state flag with it. The atmosphere was similar to how I remember it, yet the unity the hot air balloons always provide was intensified this year as it was so greatly missed during the pandemic. This connection built through the presence of New Mexicans and visitors alike was heightened by all the talented art, jewelry and clothing vendors, as well as the delicious food and the courageous balloon fliers; all of it held together by the selfless Balloon Fiesta staff.

Chanelle Jaeger is a junior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics. Contact her at

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