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Another Christmas Eve (recycled from December 2008)

You might have thought from the flashing red and blue lights on the police cruisers cordoning off Canyon Road that there had been a toxic chemical spill. There must be a less obnoxious way to keep cars out of the neighborhood for the annual Christmas Eve farolito walk.

“Union Pro-tec-teeva — what’s that?” said a loud voice behind me as I rounded the corner of Acequia Madre and Camino del Monte Sol. “Must be some kinda union.” You could tell she didn’t consider that a good thing. I started to explain that La Union Protectiva de Santa Fe was a mutual support society, almost a century old, started by neighbors to help one another with burial costs. But the moment passed.

“Everything’s closed,” complained a young blonde walking up Canyon, like she was expecting a last-minute shopping opportunity.

To bypass the hordes of revelers — some texting Christmas greetings on their cellphones — I cut up Gormley Street to Acequia Madre. It was a little more peaceful, and the display at the school was as pretty as ever, disrupted only by a high-tech exhibitionist projecting tiny blue fiber-optic laser lights into the trees. Any other night it would have looked cool.

I was glad to arrive at the Plaza and find it all but deserted. I listened to my wife (now ex-wife) sing a solo (Handel’s “Let the Bright Seraphim”) at First Presbyterian then ducked out the backdoor before the religious part began. I warmed up at La Fonda’s Fiesta Lounge with a glass of wine and the Bill Hearne Trio. In the hotel lobby I spotted Colonel Hawthorne with his long, white beard regaling a couple of tourists with memories of Oppenheimer and Los Alamos and complaints about the financial crisis: “It’s not a credit shortage, it’s a cash shortage!” A genuine Santa Fe experience.

According to a column in yesterday’s Journal by Dan Mayfield, the farolito walk ended badly with the Santa Fe police making “a slow, honking, sirens-blaring, crowd-parting, lights-blazing show-of-force,” their crackling bullhorns ordering pedestrians off Canyon Road. Christmas Eve is all about crowd control.

Every year there are fewer farolitos. Most of the bonfires are lit by art galleries instead of neighbors, and there is a charge for hot cider. Maybe it is time to put an end to this over-produced “tradition” and see what springs up naturally to take its place.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review