Why New Mexico's Land of Enchantment Is a Great Place to Spend Christmas

As one of the most Catholic states and one of the poorest states in the US—but one with a world-class art capital and strong American Indian heritage—New Mexico is a memorable and unique place to be at Christmas time. Believers flock to the religious landmarks and saint galleries, skiers and hippies converge on Taos, and locals turn Santa Fe into a magical town of twinkling lights.

Santa Fe Farolito

Walk on Canyon RoadCapital city Santa Fe loves to dress up in lights for the holiday season, from fairy-lit trees to festive fire engines to the beloved annual Farolito Walk, which takes place on Christmas Eve. Canyon Road is illuminated by hundreds of farolitos (votive candles inside paper bags) and luminaries (tiny bonfires). Crowds make their way slowly from the foot of Canyon Road up, up and up to Acequia Madre, singing carols or just sharing the beautiful atmosphere.

Seasonal Produce at Terra Restaurant

As the “backstage” view from the chef’s table at Terra restaurant inside the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe proves, seasonal produce in New Mexico is spectacular just about any month. Fall’s bounty of carrots, celeriac, purple cauliflower and pumpkins makes way for peppery radishes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and kale.

Medina Gallery

This cool little gallery in the center of Chimayo village sells mixed media art—much of it with religious themes—by several artists, including owner Sharon Candelario, whose medium is black etched tin. It is picturesque, friendly and has a great sense-of-place. Plus, visitors will discover an enormous epicurean bonus in the form of Carlos Medina’s Chili Shop, which is actually just one table in the gallery courtyard, selling the most delicious roast chili blends ever tasted for just a few dollars per bag.

El Santuario de Chimayo

Faith and art are the twin pillars of El Santuario de Chimayo; and the practitioners, whether renowned or humble wayfarers, have created a National Historic Landmark within a tiny village. It’s impossible to know how many hands and creative visions contributed to the place over the centuries. Its evolution continues in small ways every day, from supplicants affixing loved ones’ photos to the sanctum walls of El Pocito, to the many shrines and crucifixes around the courtyard.

Montez Art Gallery in Truchas

With virtually no highway signage pointing to it and few written hints of its existence, the tiny enclave of Truchas is one of Santa Fe’s best kept secrets, from an art lover’s perspective. Perhaps a dozen galleries—most of them also an artist’s residence—are tucked into a valley below the High Road to Taos, approximately an hour from Santa Fe. The visitors who do find Truchas should stop by Montez Art Gallery, which specializes in saints and angel likenesses; fascinating year-round, but most appropriate to give friends and family at Christmas.

Firepit at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe

Even when the temperature drops to below freezing, the high desert never loses its clear, crisp beauty, and locals and visitors alike never tire of it, even if they have to bundle up in coats and always stay near a crackling fire. Thanks to great desert views, an expansive firepit, and famous green chili hot chocolate, Rancho Encantado is a popular sunset gathering place.

Yuletide in Taos

Hidden in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, separated from civilization on one side by a vast national forest, and bordered by an ancient pueblo, the ski town/artists’ haven of Taos is a truly off-the-beaten-path destination. Its residents love Christmas traditions, new and old, and there’s a jam-packed Yuletide in Taos calendar that includes bonfires, a traditional Spanish Las Posadas reenactment, and the oddly dramatic Lights on Christmas Eve at Taos Ski Valley.

Palacio de Marquesa

Contrary to what one might expect, ski season is not a high season for the town of Taos. While Christmas festivities do draw some guests, most visitors opt to stay at the ski mountain, meaning you can get surprisingly reasonable rates at nice digs right in town, like this boutique inn owned by New Mexico-based Heritage Hotels. Make sure and look for a place within walking distance of Taos Plaza, the center of holiday festivities.

Chili Pepper Ristras

A common decoration throughout the state, chili pepper ristras are naturally perfect for Christmas, thanks to the bold natural red and green of the chilies. Helpful hint: If you want a ristra that’s more than a decoration, as in one you can actually eat, make sure and get one that’s not varnished. Less shiny, but much easier on the digestive tract.

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