No room at the inn, Christmas in Santa Fe

Christmas in Santa Fe is special. The Catholic traditions of the City’s Spanish founders have been passed on and are a strong presence this time of year. The City Different goes all out; it’s a great time to plan a visit.

Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, roofs, balconies and walk-ways in this old city were decorated with farolitos (paper bags filled with sand and a burning votive candle). In recent years, with the availability of strings of plastic farolitos, they appear on buildings all over the downtown area starting around Thanksgiving. They are a lot safer and the effect is still magical. If it snows, the town turns into a winter wonderland.

Annual Christmas Tree lighting

Santa Fe Plaza lit for Christmas

The Santa Fe Plaza all lit up for Christmas photo/Steve Collins

The festivities officially get underway Thanksgiving weekend. The Friday evening after Thanksgiving marks the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree in the historic Plaza, still a center of life here after 400 years. The tree-lighting festivities include refreshments, carols and more.

The state tree at the Roundhouse, the legislature building on historic Old Santa Fe Trail is traditionally lit the first Friday on December.

Las Posadas

Las Posadas, Christmas in Santa Fe

Joseph and Mary look for an inn at the annual Los Posadas photo/Steve Collins

An important part of Christmas in Santa Fe is the celebration of Las Posadas, the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for a room in Bethlehem. It is traditionally a novena, a nine-night celebration, but in Santa Fe it is celebrated on a Sunday evening. The tradition began in the San Antonio neighborhood (Acequia Madre near Paseo de Peralta) in the early 1970s. By the ‘80s, it had grown too large for that area and got a new home on the Plaza. The first Joseph was a local attorney, he owned a donkey. Coincidentally, he was Jewish as was the original. The donkey is gone, but the tradition continues.

The candlelight procession begins at the Palace of the Governors (the oldest government building in the US) on the Plaza and proceeds around the square. As it processes around the historic PLaza, more people join the group, many holding candles. Others watch from the sidelines candles in hand. The couple stops at an “inn” to ask if they have a room for them. All of a sudden out of the darkness the devil emerges, standing atop a building gesturing menacingly at the couple and their followers while yelling at them in an old Spanish dialect no longer used today. The crowd boos.  The couple continues on, stopping at an “inn” on each side of the Plaza. Three more devils emerge (one on each side of the Plaza), and the ritual is repeated . The walk culminates in the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors where hot cider and biscochitos (the New Mexico State Cookie) are served to the chilled crowd. The night air rings with voices joined in traditional Spanish Christmas carols.

Annual Christmas Open House

Gustav Baumann santa Claus at the NM Art Musuem photo/Blair Clark, Museum of Nerw Mexico

Gustav Baumann santa Claus at the NM Art Museum photo/Blair Clark, Museum of Nerw Mexico

Each December, the New Mexico Museum of Art  hosts their Annual Christmas Open House. The stars of the afternoon are woodblock artist Gustave Baumann’s hand-carved marionettes. There are two puppet plays performes loved by children of all ages. Families can take part in an arts-and-crafts project, making puppets, holiday music fills the air and refreshments are served. The best part: children can have their photo taken while  Santa sit on their laps and of course, tell him what they want. \

Christmas Eve

Farolitos on Canyon Road, Christmas Eve, photo/Steve Collins


Christmas Eve, the town gathers on historic Canyon Road, home to many of the city’s over 200 galleries, some shops and a few restaurants. The street is closed to traffic, thousands walk up and down the road greeting friends, spontaneously breaking into song and enjoying the luminarias (piñon wood bonfires) burning along the street. It feels like the whole city has turned out for the festivities. Some stop to warm their hands. Farolitos burn merrily in paper bags along the way and the street is ablaze with thousands of fairy lights. Some shops and galleries stay open for the last minute business. Hot chocolate, cider and cookies are offered along the way by merchants sharing the holiday spirit. If it snows, the scene seems even more magical.


Later in the evening, people head to mid-night mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis de Assisi. The doors open at 10:30p.m. the church fills up; get there early. Lessons and Carols begin at 11:00p.m. By the time Mass starts, there is nary a seat in the house. The interior of the beautiful cathedral merges the traditions of Catholicism with the traditions of New Mexico. It is a special place to spend the end of Christmas Eve.

The holiday season brings many musical events, other festivities and of course Christmas dinner. Santa Fe is a special places to spend the holidays in. Come see for yourself.

Authors note:  The schedule for Las Posadas and the Baumann puppets vary yearly. For up-to-date information, check with the New Mexico History Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Art.


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2 Responses to “No room at the inn, Christmas in Santa Fe”

  1. Kyani
    December 17, 2019 at 4:46 pm #

    Excellent post with some good info, think i’ll share this on my twitter if you don’t mind and maybe even blogroll it depending on the feedback, thanks for sharing.


  1. Baby Boomer Christmas Adventure in Santa Fe: 5 Reasons To Go - December 14, 2019

    […] this special night, historic Canyon Road, home to many of the town’s over 200 galleries, is closed to traffic. […]

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