Santa Fe is undeniably magical during the Christmas season, and nowhere is that magic more palpable than on Canyon Road. Long known for its many galleries and its extensive history of artistic enterprise, this storied street becomes the epicenter of yuletide cheer as both locals and visitors flock to its welcoming array of galleries and restaurants, all of them decked out for Santa Fe’s favorite holiday.
The excitement peaks with the traditional Canyon Road Christmas Eve Farolito Walk, a time when everyone comes together to share the spirit of the Santa Fe holidays in one of the city’s oldest, most charming neighborhoods. Santa Fe’s signature Christmas decoration is the farolito, a votive candle anchored in sand that glows inside a plain brown paper bag, and you’ll see thousands of them lining the rooftops, gardens, courtyards, and adobe walls of homes and businesses. Unlike other cities, where seasonal decor takes on a kind of cheerful uniformity, Santa Fe’s unique expression retains a sense of reverence, reminding us of the holiday’s spiritual origins in a way that jolly plastic Santas and red-nosed reindeer just can’t match.
The festivities begin on Christmas Eve around dusk, when Canyon Road and neighboring streets in the historic East Side are closed to vehicle traffic to make way for celebrants to stroll at leisure, taking in the festival atmosphere that’s enhanced by the pungent aroma of piñon-wood fires and the camaraderie born of shared enjoyment. Bonfires, called luminarias, are lit along the route so walkers can pause to warm up and join in the spontaneous outbreaks of Christmas carols that ring through the chilly night air.
Canyon Road’s version of the event has morphed a bit over the years, with elaborate displays of seasonal decorations at the galleries lighting up the night sky and street musicians adding to the holiday cheer. The atmosphere is celebratory and exhilarating; participants enjoy a strong sense of community as they take in the sights and sounds. A number of the galleries remain open well into the evening to keep the party going.
In the historic residential streets branching off from Canyon Road, the observance becomes quieter, more deeply spiritual, with only candlelight to guide the throngs as a reverent hush envelops the scene. Some of the neighborhood residents express their Christmas spirit by opening their homes to carolers and strollers, offering them cider or cocoa to warm them up. The enveloping glow of the farolitos (literally, “little lanterns”) and the ageless adobe architecture provide a sense of timelessness—all this could as easily be happening 200 years ago, with no interference from car traffic or artificial holiday decor to break the mood.
This much-loved event brings locals and visitors together in a way that’s unique to Santa Fe. Whereas other popular tourist destinations maintain a certain distance between residents and visitors, travelers here are welcomed with a heart-felt Christmas spirit that bridges the gap and makes the season truly special. If you’re looking for things to do in Santa Fe for the holidays, look no further than Canyon Road. You can shop, dine, enjoy a variety of fine art—and join in a unique celebration that you’ll be talking about for years to come. Your New Mexico holidays are sure to be memorable!