As the sun set on Christmas Eve, before the farolitos were lit, Turner Trice stood behind his hot chocolate stand with mittened hands popping marshmallows into his mouth.
The 3-year-old was just tall enough to survey Canyon Road from a wooden booth that looked like something out of a Peanuts comic strip. His first customer of the night strolled along with a handful of others determined to beat the mob they knew would come once dusk had passed and what was once a quaint neighborhood tradition of bonhomie amid flickering flames gave way to rivers of people filling east-side Santa Fe streets for what has become the annual Farolito Walk.
Turner relied on his smile to gather sales while his father, Roy Trice, explained they were selling hot chocolate to benefit youth suicide prevention through the Sky Center of the New Mexico Suicide Intervention Project.
As father and son filled a rainbow cup from a metal urn, Megan Trice, holding Turner’s 9-month-old sister, Isabel, said it was the debut year for Turner’s hot chocolate stand, which the parents saw as an opportunity to instill the true spirit of Christmas.
“We’re trying to teach him it’s not all about presents,” Roy Trice said, “but it’s about giving back to the community.”
This idea of giving and unity flickered to life along with the candles as people set up booths to help causes, provided cider to the weary and welcomed families from near and far. While the event has grown with an influx of tourists, a sense of community and charity remains.
Bookending Canyon Road, green-clothed tables held containers of cider and hot chocolate being dispensed by Girl Scout Troop 342, whose members were raising money for a summer trip to Italy. The high school juniors for the past four years have been working toward making a journey centered around faith and culture, and the Farolito Walk was a chance to both spread some cheer and seek aid from the community to make their dreams come true.
“Some of these girls, it’s their only chance to get out of the country in their lifetime,” said the troop’s co-leader, Cindy Carrillo.
Passing by the booth, Joaquin Martinez carried his 3-year-old daughter, Luna, on his shoulders. Martinez, 45, grew up in Santa Fe and said he’s seen the changes through the years as the Christmas Eve experience shifted from family gatherings to a tourist attraction. While he won’t walk the street once the sun sets due to the crowds and how it’s turned into a “party thing,” he said, it’s still special.
“It’s still something that represents the love of Santa Fe,” he said. “Progress is progress. We welcome it, but we hope it stays respectful.”
Just after 5 p.m., the smell of burning piñon rose as bonfires leapt to life. Church bells echoed as people flocked in a wave in search of holiday magic.
Laughter, carols and the hum of chatter replaced the bell tolls as darkness was broken by twinkling farolitos.
Some galleries welcomed visitors seeking a break from the cold.
Dominique Boisjoli greeted guests who meandered through her gallery and offered them cookies, as she has for the past 25 years.
“It’s important to help build Canyon Road’s reputation for hospitality and not just art,” Boisjoli said.
As people shuffled together, this sense of hospitality and oneness was most often seen around holiday bonfires, known locally as luminarias.
People from Texas and Maryland mingled as they roasted marshmallows on sticks in front of Canyon Road Contemporary Art where The S’More Pit set up shop.
“The Farolito Walk is a coalescence of so many people and the fire pit joins people around it, ” said Sarah Petersen, co-owner of the pop-up eatery.
Down the road, outside Edition One gallery, people gathered around another fire to sing songs. The Seventh Wave Singers or the Joy Crew led people through carols. As the night grew, so did the music.
“Their whole thing is getting people together who don’t usually consider themselves singers,” said Peter Williams a member of the Joy Crew. “It makes [the Farolito Walk] more of a community thing than just a walk through.”
A number of the folks strolling the streets and galleries wore lights or Santa hats.
Kathy Rivera stood wrapped in a coat sporting 70 small bags over lights — mini farolitos. She proudly said she’s been the “Farolito Lady” for the last five years.
“I like that people are dressing up,” Rivera said. “It’s bringing a lot more people out.”
Holly Maiz lit up the streets with her reindeer antlers, white dress and lighted wreath poised on her head. Maiz said she wanted to bring cheer.
“It makes people smile,” Maiz said. “There’s always going to be change and we reindeer know how to deal with uncertainty.”