Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve On Canyon Road

Canyon Rd Christmas Eve 2012

One of the holiday traditions in Santa Fe is an evening stroll along Canyon Road on Christmas Eve. Practically the whole town turns out, and we'd been told it's quite festive if a bit crowded...

We had never been to this particular event due to factors beyond our control. It's kind of like the Burning of Zozobra or Balloon Fiesta. We might have been in New Mexico when these excitements and get togethers are in progress, but for whatever reason, we've been unable to hie ourselves hitherwards to participate.

Yesterday we made our way up to Santa Fe on a blustery and cloudy afternoon, nonetheless, found a dandy parking slot, and set out on foot, bundled up like ticks about to pop, to see what was up with the farolitos  and luminarias and hot cocoa mongers and gallery proprietors and all the people decorated like Christmas trees -- and not yet too drunk -- out for a stroll on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve.

Oh what fun...! Really. People were arriving from all over and every direction even before the fires were lit. They were wrapped in their Christmas lights or jangling their Christmas bells, some bundled up appropriately for the weather that was predicted to come, some looking far too underdressed for even the early evening chill in the air. Some were overdressed, in the Santa Fe Style sense, even though it didn't seem like they were wearing nearly enough to keep warm. Oh well!

One of the complaints we've heard about Santa Fe is that "it's nothing but galleries", or it seems to be so when you're in the heart of the town around the Plaza or -- especially -- on Canyon Road not too far away from the Plaza to the east. Yes, well. When you're in Santa Fe, you're going to be surrounded by, indeed immersed in, art, both public art scattered around, and art for sale at a plethora of galleries that are literally bursting from every little cranny, nook, plazuela and plazuelita you can find. And there are hundreds of them.

Gallery going can be a great deal of fun, or it can be a tiresome chore, depending. If Santa Fe had a gallery problem it was that in the past, they tended to show pretty much the very same things, often seemingly by the very same half-dozen or so "prominent" artists, along with a bunch of "ehn" dreck for the tourists. That's changed, thank goodness, and the scope of art available in the galleries or on view at the museums seems much broader than it once was. Overall quality has always been high, but these days it's even higher, much of the work is by people I've never heard of, doing really remarkable and appealing  things in a wide variety of media. This is good.

Canyon Road, which once served as a route into the Sangre de Christo mountains heavily utilized by wood cutters and travelers up to Taos, is now "nothing but galleries" and restaurants catering to the stylish and expensive crowd.

I think I've pointed out in the past that I have bought a lot of paintings and other art over the years, and our house in New Mexico, though larger by half or more than our house in California, is much too small to display it all. So we have to rotate, but I'm kind of lazy at doing that. We change paintings less often than we should, to say the least. While I was moving things around after we arrived to settle here in October, for example, I ran across a whole series of paintings I'd pretty much forgotten about, and I'm still puzzled about what to do with them, as we've never displayed them, many were obviously impulse purchases, and tastes have changed. We also have a lot of paintings and other art that we brought from California (though we gave away quite a lot in the final flurry of moving) that sits stacked in the outbuildings. I've actually thought of adding another wing to the house and finishing off the attic in order to have room to display more of the collection, as well as to have the space to take care of it a little better. Good doG!

Naturally, we like looking at art, owning it, and at least at one time, we didn't mind creating it, either. The creation part is still on hold, but it's impossible to keep us away from galleries and museums and artists' studios where we naturally gravitate. And from time to time we still buy pieces to add to the overflow.

But we were good on Canyon Road, only visiting one gallery and picking out about five pieces for further consideration and possible purchase one day. The outdoor displays were quite sufficient, truth to tell. Somewhat surprisingly, most of the galleries appeared to be closed anyway. Our impression had been that the galleries would all be open for the evening's processional, but no. Not so. In a sense, it was just as well. The crowds were so thick at the galleries that were open it was not a particularly conducive situation for art appreciation.

In any case, the evening was not so much about art as it was about Christmas, and that became very clear as the little bonfires were lit along the street, and the farolitos/luminarias glowed softly on sidewalks and the adobe walls and rooflines. The farolitos/luminaria are something special in New Mexico and some other parts of the Southwest at Christmas time. They are nothing but brown paper lunch bags with a bit of sand or gravel in the bottom with one tea light for illumination. They are very subtle lights compared to standard Christmas lights, so subtle they can almost disappear when combined with brighter electric displays. But on their own, farolitos/luminarias are enchanting. And Canyon Road had plenty of them -- one display at Morning Star Gallery was breathtaking.

(Note: definitions are one of the subtler aspects of the season; depending on where you are -- and perhaps your mood at the moment -- the paper bag lanterns are called either farolitos or luminarias,  just as the bonfires are called luminarias  or farolitos. In fact, the terms are used interchangeably, and it's always best to keep a sense of humor about what to call the season's fire lights.)

The little bonfires, luminaria/farolitos, became stations for carolers, which we joined from time to time as we proceeded up Canyon Road. And then it began to snow. We knew that snow was predicted, but there was no certainty about just when it would come or how much there would be. It snowed as we were rendering "Jingle Bells," so we shifted seamlessly into "Let It Snow" as we stood around the fire marveling at the sight and the timing. People were happy enough beforehand, but the snow turned the whole event into something truly special. The children were amazed, and the dogs loved it. Smart people were wheeling their chihuahuas and children around in Radio Flyer wagons, the less smart stuck to their strollers -- which unfortunately would get stuck here and there along the route. Some thoughtfully provided booties for their big dogs to wear in the snow, but the bundled up chihuahuas were the evening's star animal attractions.

There was hot food and hot drink along the route, so no one need get too chilled. I heard someone looking for freebies say "No one's drunk enough to start giving stuff away, but they will..." and I thought, yes, of course. They will. The accordion player at one stop along the way saw some bicycle cops cruising through the crowds and started singing, "Police Took My Car" to the tune of "Feliz Navidad," which of course got the crowd into an even merrier mood.

As the snow started coming down more heavily, we decided it was time to head back, not knowing how much there would be and with a fifty mile drive ahead of us. I don't mind driving in snow any more, but I wouldn't say Santa Fe  has the best public snow-services. Streets are not plowed with any sort of dependability, nor are they necessarily salted before they ice; ice is allowed to build up at intersections and wrecks are fairly commonplace as a result (that or sliding off the road....)  At night, it can get a little chaotic as drivers try to avoid hazards and thread their way around the ice patches...

We walked through the snow back toward Paseo de Peralta, not really fretting about anything, though. The temperature didn't seem to be that cold and the snow wasn't that heavy. It was pretty and very appropriate for the mood, the evening, and the season. As we got closer to our parking place, the crowds headed toward Canyon Road got thicker and thicker, and I wondered how they could pack any more people in; the street crowd was already nearly wall to wall, and it was still early.

The snow stopped by the time we got to the van, and the roads back to our place were all ice free. Yay.

I'm usually not that good in crowds, but the evening's festivities were yet another real treat in New Mexico, one that, like so many others, we'll not soon forget.

Canyon Rd Christmas Eve Wagon Wheel 2012


  1. For the rest of my life, "police took my car" will replace those boring old original lyrics, and then I think I can possibly like that song again. I'm naturally envious about the weather, since I'm currently in hip wader country.
    Merry X-mas, Che.... Glad to have you around.

  2. Thanks, glad you liked the Santa Fe version of "Feliz Navidad."

    The chorus: "I don't wanna spend the night in jail..." Once he started up with this version of the Timeless Christmas Classic, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. They loved it. So did we.

    Blogdom is a much better place with you in it, Hag. Have a happy, dry (in the weather sense), and cheery New Year!