Celebrate the Holidays New Mexico Style

Jokes circulate on social media this time of year about New Mexico traditions, such as adding green chile to stuffing. And all year long when faced with the difficult choice of red or green chile to top your burrito, eggs and just about anything else, New Mexico diners take the easy but delicious way out, selecting “Christmas” for both red and green, please.

So, we have delicious food, but a few other traditions make the holidays in New Mexico special.

luminarias new mexico home
Last year’s luminarias at our Ruidoso Downs home. Photo credit: Dave Higgins, Albuquerque.

Luminarias

You can hang pretty icicle lights, but a row of luminarias casts a beautiful, flickering light along a path. Made from brown paper bags filled with sand and a small candle, the tradition of lighting luminarias dates back at least 300 years. The meaning of the lights was to welcome the Christ child.

luminaria preparation on Albuquerque home walkway
My daughter setting out luminarias in Albuquerque in 2011.

Of course, even something as peaceful as a luminaria is not without controversy. The literal translation of the word is “bonfire,” which is not the intent! Another word for the lights is farolitos, but most agree this stands for the candle placed inside the bag.

Regardless, luminarias are an easy addition to holiday décor. You simply fold down the tops of the bags, fill each with a couple of inches of sand and then place your candle in the middle of the sand. We light them on Christmas Eve. Learn more about luminarias and see some great photos at Visit Albuquerque.

Prepping Christmas luminaria bags and sand
My husband and son-in-law prepped the bags with sand. I think all I did was take photos…

Ristras

Although not limited to the holidays, red chile ristras are a classic and organic way to celebrate the season in New Mexico. Our dry climate is perfect for chile crops in the warmer, southern portion of the state (like Hatch, of course!). Traditionally, red chile pods are dried in the sun for storage and use later.

red chile ristra
A red chile ristra and pine cone wreath adorned our door last year.

Ritras, or a string of red chile pods, are said to bring good luck, and typically hang on a front porch. They’re the perfect color for adding to holiday décor, and you can even find wreaths made with red chile pods.

More About New Mexican Food

Sorry, I have to return to holiday food for a minute. Posole is a favorite holiday meal in New Mexico. Made with hominy, pork, herbs and spices, posole is a hearty soup and meal in itself. We usually flavor ours with red chile. You can cook the pods with the posole or add red chile as you serve.

Queso is a well-known and simple dish for holiday gatherings. Our favorite queso recipe actually comes from neighboring Texas. It’s from Texas Cowboy Cooking by Tom Perini of Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas.

And what’s a holiday gathering without tamales? I’ve never tried to make them, because I hear it’s a lot of work. But nothing beats authentic, homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks and steamed to perfection. Then you top them with red, green, or… Christmas!

biscochitos on plate
Biscochitos, the New Mexico state cookie, have spicy cinnamon, the herb anise and just enough spirits to make the holidays bright.

Top it all off with a few biscochitos and pinon coffee. Here’s my post on the delicious anise-laced cookies from a few years ago.

Happy holidays from New Mexico!