Lighting of Ledoux, a Taos holiday tradition

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As the winter solstice approaches and the days grow darker, light begins to take on a special significance. In Taos, community does, too.

The month-long Yuletide in Taos celebration begins Friday (Dec. 4) as locals and visitors gather in Taos Plaza for the traditional Christmas Tree Lighting, and many of those folks will probably return Saturday (Dec. 5) at 5:15 p.m. for a parade that proceeds south of the Plaza along Ledoux Street, where hundreds of farolitos light the way each year for the annual Lighting of Ledoux.

What is a farolito? It’s a common question, and in New Mexico, there are generally two answers. A lexical dividing line is said to lie somewhere in the middle of the state, around the 35 parallel. Residents to the south refer to a farolito as a miniature bonfire made of fragrant piñon twigs, but in Taos, these small fires are known as “luminarias,” whereas a “farolito” is defined as a small paper bag, weighted by sand and illuminated by a candle.

It stands to reason then that the origins of the terms also tend to disagree. Some associate the traditional decorations exclusively with religious occasions, while others claim they were first inspired by 19th-century bandits who burned bags of loot before impending capture.

All contentions aside, farolitos and luminarias retain an unmistakably New Mexican identity, and their soft amber light can be seen along rooftops, sidewalks and church walls throughout the dusky winter months.

This Saturday marks the 18th year that these traditional lights have lined one of Taos’ oldest thoroughfares for the Lighting of Ledoux — a beloved holiday event that brings Taoseños together to enjoy caroling, hot cider, roasted marshmallows and the unique character that makes Ledoux one of the most charming, if lesser known, places in Taos.

A narrow, winding road befitting a 13th-century European city, Ledoux lies just to the southwest of Taos Plaza and intersects Camino de Placita at Stella’s Italian Restaurant. It is notoriously tricky to find. However, holiday visitors will be fortunate to have Father Winter for a guide this Saturday, as he will arrive at Taos Plaza on “Maria,” the Taos Volunteer Fire Department’s iconic vintage truck, to lead the parade that ends at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street.

The Harwood is spearheading this year’s event, and the museum invites everyone to take part in the procession and the family activities planned to follow. “Join us at 5:15 p.m. at Taos Plaza to lead the parade delivering Father Winter along Ledoux Street to The Harwood Museum of Art, where he will spend the rest of the evening hearing children’s holiday wishes, along with art-making for the whole family in the Fern Hogue Mitchell Education Center,” reads the Harwood’s press release.

The Harwood, Los Alamos National Laboratory, STEMarts LAB and The Paseo will also be sponsoring a special light show to be projected on the museum’s façade from 5-7 p.m., adding another layer to the evening’s festive luster. “Students from Carla Chavez’s biology class at Taos High School will participate in ‘Projecting Particles’ and four teens from Taos Academy will lead a demonstration that combines particle physics with projection art,” the Harwood’s press release continues.

In recent years, the Harwood has taken on a leading role for the Lighting of Ledoux, providing sand for farolitos and expanding the event with some additional activities, but the evening continues to be a community effort, with every merchant along the historic stretch contributing something unique to the party.

For its size, Ledoux Street includes a large number of things to see and do. Two museums, several art galleries, a wine tasting bar, salon and numerous little shops have set up over the years. As is true of much of Taos’ central district, the area was first home to early Taos artists.

In 1916, Burt and Elizabeth Harwood purchased the property and buildings that were later developed into the present-day Harwood Museum of Art, which served as Taos’ first library.

Just up the road from the Harwood is the former home of Taos Society of Artists founding member Ernest L. Blumenschein, located at 222 Ledoux Street. The adobe hacienda now houses the Blumenschein Home and Museum, which exhibits a collection of historic artwork and antiques throughout the year. It, along with the Hacienda de los Martínez, is operated as part of Taos Historic Museums.

Its director, Kathryn Ritter, offers a few more details on the history of the area. “Ledoux Street is named after a fur trader, and this is one of the areas where they would meet and trade,” said Ritter. “The history really hits you when you see the historic photos of the area. The Harwood was a historic home, and there’s another historic home right next to it. The Blumenschein Museum has several historic buildings, and the center of the property dates back to 1797. These are some of the oldest buildings in town.”

Ritter and her staff are excited to welcome guests into the Blumenschein courtyard on Saturday evening for some special treats. “This is a community event for people to come and for us to give back to them,” Ritter explains. “We’ll have cider and cookies galore, as well as coffee and hot cocoa. A bonfire will be lit in the courtyard, farolitos will line the pathways and the walls, and out front along the length of the Museum. Taos High School Choir will be here from 6-7 p.m.”

Other stops to make include Black Mesa Winery Tasting Room at 241 Ledoux Street, where visitors can warm up with hot cider and cookies, hot mulled wine and a live musical performance by Fritz Davis and Wayne Evanson from 5-8 p.m. Next door, Salon Marjorie will also offer holiday refreshments, as will artist Linda Rauch at her gallery just west of the Harwood.

One of the longest-standing galleries on Ledoux Street belongs to Inger Jirby, a Swedish artist whose impressionistic paintings have captured life in Taos for many years. Jirby, in collaboration with others, hosted the first Lighting of Ledoux in 1998. “We wanted to invite people to come to our street, so we thought of having a party during the winter season. We started with the lighting of the luminarias and we had the fires outside and contracted people to sing and play music. Before then, not many people knew about Ledoux Street,” Jirby recalls. “It has become a big community event that celebrates the coming of Christmas and makes our street known among Taoseños and visitors. It is a tradition that everyone really enjoys.”

The Lighting of Ledoux is free of charge. For more information, visit harwoodmuseum.org, or call (575) 758-9826.

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