There are a few things you can bet on happening this holiday season as the planet leans into the winter solstice and hibernation mode for the bears and some people. 

From the warmth of your car you can cruise the town starting in December and find lights – Christmas lights, farolitos and holiday displays.  

Things are in pandemic scheduling flux, but here are a few routes to follow from Paseo del Pueblo Sur to Norte, sure to lift your spirit and inspire you as the challenging days of 2020 end.

 

Light shows

On hold for this year as of press time, Lighting of Ledoux harks back to romantic traditions from holidays past when candles and tin lanterns were used to gather ’round and tend the Tannenbaum or light the path to Christmas Mass. 

This year there will be lights, but no gathering of more than five people is allowed at this time. Of course there could be a change, so double-check frequently. 

Shoppers will find an organic, no-frills celebration of the season where proprietors on the hidden narrow road of Taos’ oldest art district fill paper bags with sand and a single candle (or put out electric farolitos), creating a candlelit pathway amid the frosty night air. There may be the whiff of a piñon bonfire (what locals call luminarias). This year, no rules, no schedule, come as you are. Be sure to check Taos News and Tempo for last-minute updates.

The Taos Plaza features traditional farolitos and thousands of bright lights outlining the plaza trees and strewn from the solid pine pillars to the portals of the adobes lining the square. The drive is a circular one so you’ll travel at a welcome snail’s pace as you traverse the historic grounds. 

Travelling just a few blocks to the north you’ll find the only neon sign allowed in Taos, a turquoise and cobalt blue Thunderbird that rises above the Historic Taos Inn, where there are more twinkling lights and farolitos. Maybe if you roll down your window for a minute you may again take in the smell of a piñon fire, and maybe even wafts of roasting chiles in the crisp winter air.

On the corner before you head north is the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House. More farolitos and white lights cascade from the trees that Nicolai Fechin planted almost 100 years ago on the grounds. This 4,000-square-foot, asymmetrical, adobe Pueblo and Mission Revival house, with 24-inch walls, on Paseo del Pueblo Norte, is a jewel of Southwest architecture. The farolitos further enhance the charm of this Taos treasure.

Cid’s Grocery Store a few blocks up always suits up for the holidays, with lights and ornaments hanging from the Cid’s sign, street lamps and in the store windows. 

 

The Lights of El Prado

Another few short blocks and you’ll find the crown jewel of neighborhood light festivals at theThe Lights of El Prado. Every year since the mid-’70s, Lee Gonzales has been lighting up his family's corner of the world for the holiday season. What started as a family tradition sparked by his parents Carmen and Nick Gonzales has developed into an extended family tradition that lights up their whole El Prado neighborhood, starting with Lee’s family home at 1108 Calle Isidro. This year there is a special tribute to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. 

The light show goes on from Dec. 15 to Jan. 5, seven days a week, 5 to 10 p.m. On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve the lights stay on until after midnight. 

Lee said the show is very popular in Taos. “We watch the cars touring the neighborhood from our living room, some years we go outside and direct traffic. Some years we dedicate the light exhibit to a member of the family who passed that year with a memorial banner commemorating their life.” 

Lee said what began with a few houses and the Gonzales family nativity scene has expanded to include multiple dwellings, so many that he needs to set up the displays in November to be ready for the Dec. 15 debut. Technology has developed over the years. He used to manually turn the lights on, then came timers he’d set and now he can control the displays by remote. The LED bulbs available now are brighter, he says, and more energy-efficient so he’s switched to those.

One year a woman stopped in his yard, as many do, to take pictures. He went out to talk to her and she explained that her daughter, then stationed in Kuwait with the military, asked her to photograph the Gonzaleses’ El Prado light show that she and her mother would come to every year when she was a child. 

Lee used to be a teacher, and he now has grandchildren in school. He said he feels for the teachers and his grandchildren during these stressful, remote learning times. This year he said he hopes the show will uplift people as we approach the end of 2020, which has been such a difficult year. The lights are a reminder that someday this will be behind us. It has been and will continue to be hard, but we remain strong for each other. 

To find your way to El Prado’s light show, go north on Paseo del Pueblo Norte to the area between the El Prado Liquor Store, at 1102 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, and Elevation Coffee, at 1110 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. There is a loop through the Gonzales property, which is kept clear even if it snows.

Because of ever-changing COVID-19 protocols, check with Taos News for updates on closures and holiday events.

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