Me­silla, New Mex­ico

This town sparkles with Christ­mas lights.

Country - - FRESH AIR - EL­LIE PIPER

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.

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