Mesilla, New Mexico
This town sparkles with Christmas lights.
mainstay throughout New Mexico. Albuquerque’s lights span neighborhoods and Santa Fe boasts glorious luminaria processions, but there’s something especially stirring about the Christmas Eve display in Old Mesilla, a small town just east of the Rio Grande.
Mesilla’s backstory is peppered with Wild West lore. Billy the Kid was sentenced to hang here in 1881. (He escaped.) And the influence of Native, Spanish, Mexican and other cultures creates a folksy tapestry, evident in adobe architecture, galleries, eateries and places of worship—notably the Basilica of San Albino on the historic Plaza.
The town’s luminaria tradition began in the mid-1960s, when Josefina Gamboa Biel Emerson moved into her parents’ home near the basilica. In keeping with family practice, she set out luminarias, inviting guests in for food and drink. In time, her display grew. Boy Scouts helped place the lights; merchants gave to the candle fund.
LUMINARIAS ARE A HOLIDAY
Today, the Las Cruces High School marching band and Los Leones de Mesilla (the Lions Club) help sustain the custom, filling paper bags with sand and votives. Locals distribute them throughout the Plaza and along the Avenida de Mesilla, and the candles are lit in unison. Come sunset, the Plaza is bustling with revelers, carolers and 6,000 flickering lights.
For a memorable daytime excursion, head 2 miles southwest to Bosque State Park, an Audubon-designated birding area with inviting trails and views of the Organ Mountains to the east. In town, check out the historic Fountain Theatre, the Mesilla Book Center, and green-chile-smothered everything at Andele Restaurante. And if you’re here at Christmastime, by all means, take in the spectacular lights.
Luminarias light up the Plaza in Mesilla on Christmas Eve.