On the evening after Thanksgiving, an impressively large crowd gathered on the Santa Fe Plaza to witness the annual tree lighting. At the moment the center of the city went from darkness to being awash with color, hundreds of us shouted in excitement as if we had never before seen such a magical sight.
As I bumped happily along in the throngs of people, I couldn’t remember ever being in such a big group of revelers on the Plaza. Marshall James Kavanaugh, a street poet who writes, for tips, about anything you suggest, had his table and typewriter set up that night on the sidewalk near Santa Fe Espresso Co. He told me he’d never seen a crowd like this, either. A couple of weeks earlier, on a dry and windy afternoon, he’d written me a poem about “the future.” His business was bustling during the tree lighting. His customers that night, mostly children, requested topics such as snow and unicorns.
My spirits were so lifted by all the camaraderie downtown that I decided to attend several more outdoor holiday events — to take full advantage of whatever good will 2018 had left to offer. The next opportunity was the first night of Chanukah, on Sunday, Dec. 2. The Santa Fe Jewish Center hosts this party on the Plaza every year. It was especially important to me to attend such a public gathering so soon after the Oct. 27 mass murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
It was a cold, gray day, but more than 200 people turned out to stamp their freezing toes to the music of Los Klezmerados de Santa Fe and sample latkes and traditional Jewish donuts called sufganiyah. At dusk, Rabbi Berel Levertov and Mayor Alan Webber lit a large decorative menorah near the stage, followed by more dancing. Elan Gerzon, who was grooving near the band, told me that he was a weaver from Israel-Palestine. He lives in Española, where he directs youth education programs. “This is my favorite of all holidays, this time of lighting the dark back up — not just for Jews, but the whole world,” he said. “There is a lot of fear in being Jewish, and it’s hard to express our pride in a way that is fearless and beautiful, humble and humane, all at the same time. I think it’s wonderful to be able to come together and dance and listen to music, and remember thousands of years of miracles being lit up. We all need each other for that.”
I attended my first Las Posadas on Sunday, Dec. 9. The retelling of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter so that she could give birth was like watching a parade in the round, with the audience following Joseph, Mary, and their fellow pilgrims as they sang traditional Spanish songs. Along the route, they periodically stopped to ask for lodging but were refused each time — and then taunted, from the rooftops, by actors dressed as devils. Eventually, they were welcomed into the Palace of the Governors. I enjoyed this theatrical event for the way its energy increased as it went on. The singing got louder and the devils’ machinations more dramatic as Joseph and Mary grew desperate for a place to rest. To make the pageantry all the more poignant, this year’s Las Posadas fell on the eighth night of Chanukah. The Plaza menorah was fully lit as the procession rounded the corner of Palace Avenue to make its final entreaty.
For me, the main event of Christmas in Santa Fe is the Canyon Road Farolito Walk, held annually on Dec. 24, when the streets are lined with candles in paper bags, creating a half-mile stretch that looks like a scene from a fairy tale. After years of diligent experimenting with timing and parking, my husband and I finally hit the Farolito Walk sweet spot. We arrived at about 5:30 p.m., when there was still a little bit of light in the sky. We were able to watch the farolitos grow brighter as the sun set. The street was crowded enough to feel festive but not yet packed. There were people selling hot chocolate, apple cider, and cookies, as well as a few galleries giving away the goods for free and welcoming people inside to look at art. Carolers sang, attempting to get others to join them, which was most successful when they were gathered around bonfires, known as luminarias. We saw the lady who every year wears a long coat covered in miniature farolitos, as well as a Santa Claus clad all in black, whom my husband dubbed “Santy Cash.” All the sculpture gardens were twinkling.
Our hourlong walk helped us work up an appetite for dinner. If I had the power to change one thing about the experience, it would be to limit the use of cellphone cameras by one and all. The Farolito Walk is unique and obviously worthy of capturing for posterity, but the glow from the near-ubiquitous cameras competed with the sights we were all there to see. It felt at odds with the sense of antiquity and tradition inherent in the setting.
A relatively new Santa Fe tradition is New Year’s Eve on the Plaza, with a countdown clock and fireworks. Instead of waiting for a ball to drop, like in New York’s Times Square, we watch a red Zia ascend. There were snow and freezing temperatures for the party’s third year, so we roamed the sidewalks around the Plaza, drinking free hot cocoa and huddling in the doorways of closed shops to get out of the wind. We chatted with others who had the same strategy for passing the time until midnight, and we danced in place to music by the band Sierra, marveling at how difficult it must be to play in such conditions. When the clock struck midnight, we yelled and cheered, and then the fireworks began. The air quickly filled with smoke, so we started making our way down San Francisco Street, ready to head home. Just as I noted that fireworks seemed to be bursting just inches above our heads, a big spark landed at my feet, causing me to leap in alarm.
Could it be an omen about the coming year? And if so, what kind?
I thought of some lines from the spontaneous poem about the future the street poet had typed for me on an index card. He had written it just steps from where I now stood with a flame sizzling by my boot.
the key is the ability
to cause change for the better
starting now and not waiting
we all think about time machines
in order to prevent some
but if we are the machine
able to inspire a better outlook
upon the nearing horizon
Poems are like prayers — perfect for carrying with us and remembering when we most need them. I am taking these words with me into 2019, setting my sights on a possible future where we are all together, celebrating in the light. ◀