Around sundown on December 24th, I was walking down Camino Don Miguel toward Acequia Madre hoping that when I rounded the corner I wouldn’t see the usual police cruiser parked catty-corner from Union Protectiva with its red and blue revolving lights wiping out the glow of the farolitos. I got my wish. To block off the area to traffic, the city was using one of its friendlier public safety cars and its blinking orange beacons were barely a distraction. Turning right on Camino del Monte Sol and heading toward Canyon Road I encountered a woman in a witch’s hat decorated with battery-powered flashing lights. Another postmodern Christmas Eve in Santa Fe.
It was better this time. Just two or three years ago one of the galleries set up a public address system and had a d.j. blasting out happy talk and Christmas carols. But the shoulder to shoulder crowd with its dogs and cellphones seemed as big and noisy as ever. The closest I came to the silent night I’d hoped for was when I walked down the cul-de-sac of San Antonio Street where it almost seemed like what I imagine old Santa Fe to be. Near Acequia Madre Elementary I watched a flying farolito rising like a Christmas star and wondered, as I do every year, why the city can’t work with PNM to turn off the streetlights, or why for that matter we have to have streetlights at all.
On my way back I stopped at the bonfire on Acequia Madre and Don Miguel where the commissioner of the ditch and his family were serenading the night with guitars. Now this finally felt neighborly. I spotted Councilor Heldmeyer among the revelers and she told me that earlier that day a man driving an enormous tractor-trailer rig had squeezed onto Canyon Road, breaking some tree branches, and parked on a sidewalk with a load of sculptures to sell to the Christmas Eve strollers. When a tow truck arrived to haul away the vehicle, the interloper became so incensed that he had to be handcuffed.
Returning home along Camino San Acacio, I felt like Charlie Brown wondering about the meaning of Christmas. The closest I suspect I’ll ever come to seeing an angel is a flying farolito, but even an agnostic can be moved by Linus’s reply.