Winter Wonderlands: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Martha Stewart Living, December 2002

This city never seems more true to its Spanish, American Indian, and Anglo heritage than in the chilly heart of December. Each year, the central plaza in front of the Palace of the Governors -- a Spanish Colonial landmark -- is decorated with thousands of farolitos, candles set in sand inside paper bags, while electric versions outline the roofs of the long open porches fronting the square. On the plaza, the trees are covered with multicolored lights. And for the annual tree-lighting the Friday after Thanksgiving, Santa Claus arrives in a vintage fire engine.

To this crazy quilt of old and new comes a far older Spanish tradition. On December 15, the city turns off all the streetlights downtown, and Las Posadas -- a procession led by a man and a woman portraying Mary and Joseph -- progresses by candlelight through alleys lined with farolitos. As a band plays mandolins and sings Spanish carols, the couple reach the central plaza and make their way around it, asking for shelter. They are turned away everywhere until they reach the Palace of the Governors. There, upon Mary and Joseph's arrival, the doors swing open, and the courtyard becomes a setting for music, celebrating, and bonfires called luminarias, which represent the visit of the Bethlehem shepherds.

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