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History of Santa Fe's Farolito Walk

What is the Canyon Road farolito walk?


Santa Fe's Canyon Road farolito walk is one of our city's most beloved traditions. It starts at dusk each Christmas Eve and brings together thousands of locals and visitors to view the historic East Side of Santa Fe illuminated by farolitos.


Farolitos lining Canyon Road at the Morningstar Gallery
Farolitos lining Canyon Road at the Morningstar Gallery


What are farolitos?


Farolitos, also known as luminarias, have a rich history in New Mexico and are a traditional part of the state's holiday celebrations. The terms "farolito" and "luminaria" are sometimes used interchangeably, but there can be regional variations in their meaning. In New Mexico, both terms generally refer to small paper lanterns or bags filled with sand and illuminated with a candle.


Farolitos in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve


The tradition of farolitos in New Mexico has its roots in both Native American and Hispanic cultures. The use of small, lit lanterns has been a part of Native American rituals for centuries, and when the Spanish colonized the region in the 16th century, they brought with them the tradition of using candles in paper bags to illuminate the paths to churches during religious celebrations.


Over time, the practice of placing farolitos outside homes during Christmas season became widespread in New Mexico. The soft glow of the farolitos is said to symbolize the welcoming of the Christ child into the world. Communities throughout the state, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque, are known for their elaborate displays of farolitos during the holiday season.


Farolitos on the Inn and Spa of the Loretto in Santa Fe in 1985
Farolitos on the Inn and Spa of the Loretto in Santa Fe in 1985

The exact origins of the tradition are difficult to trace, but it has become deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of New Mexico. Many towns and neighborhoods organize events to showcase farolitos. The soft, warm light of farolitos lining the streets and adorning buildings creates a magical and festive atmosphere during the holiday season.


Christmas at La Fonda in 1955
Christmas at La Fonda in 1955


Tips for the farolito walk in Santa Fe

Remember to dress warmly and wear sensible shoes - especially with recent snows, the streets around Canyon Road are likely to be icy.


One tip to avoiding crowds.


Drop by a little later, say around 8 PM, to avoid the crush of people who turn out at dusk. Leave dogs and other pets at home - the crowds can spook even the friendliest of animals.


It can be difficult to maneuver strollers in the crush and along uneven streets and sidewalks, it's best to leave them behind. 


Then take a deep breath, and lose yourself in the loveliest night of the year.

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