Feliz Navidad

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 24, 2013 10:02 PM

Spending our first holiday season in the Old Pueblo has introduced us to a number of new festivities. There was the snow at La Encantada, blasted out of mini snow machines at 6 and 6:45 on Friday and Saturday nights as carolers sang below. It was actually very Christmasy, and certainly cold enough for snow. That’s something we had not expected in our move from Southern California. It gets cold there, to be sure, but it seems colder here in the desert. I’ve spent the last weeks bundled up even in the house. The night we went to La Encantada for snow, we had to duck into a local restaurant and sit next to their fire so I could get warm. It felt very much like the holidays.

The spectacle that is Winterhaven is quite something. This is a neighborhood not far from here where they’ve had an annual Festival of Lights every year since 1949 when a man named CB Richards created the small residential area. It was Mr. Richards who purchased the first lights used in the first festival. He also purchased the Aleppo pine trees that line the neighborhood, quite out of place in the desert, except during the Christmas season when the temperatures often curl around 30 degrees. There are electrical connections near each tree so that hundreds of thousands of white, red, blue and green lights can blaze beautifully, in the trees and on the houses. Those lights have shown brightly every year save one, during the energy crunch in the 1970s. It’s a stunning display and something Kevin and I had never experienced before moving here. What’s even better is that cars are only allowed on three nights, and two of those are after Christmas.

The Festival is free but the residents request a donation of canned food. In 2012, they raised nearly $21,000 and offered approximately 34,000 pounds of food to the local food bank.

Many homes outside of Winterhaven also decorate for the season. As newcomers we wondered if somehow the Dark Skies Ordnance, which dictates there be no bright lights at night, including street lights, would preclude people from putting lights on their houses and dancing reindeer in their front yards. We needn’t have wondered. Many trim their homes in lights, and wire-framed reindeer graze merrily. Luminarias are also plentiful. These candlelit brown paper bags are also called farolitos, meaning little lanterns, which according to my research may or may not be the correct term. The tradition of using these small lanterns first began in the 16th century as a way to light the way toward Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas, a reenactment of the story of Mary and Joseph and their search for an inn in Bethlehem.

I’ve long loved the look of luminarias. In the past, paper bags were filled with sand and a candle was placed inside. Today, there are electric luminarias, undoubtedly safer and easier, though not quite as eerily beautiful, with the live flame contained and dancing inside the bag.

Experiencing the holiday season in Tucson has been one of wonder and joy, an adventure in finding the right coat to wear. For 25 plus years, our Christmases were spent in Los Angeles. While we didn’t have family there we did have our closest friends, our chosen family. We would all gather for Christmas dinner; the day after would be spent wine tasting in Santa Barbara county. It’s hard to move to a new area and I worried about the holidays especially. I wondered if we would be lonely, if we’d find new traditions. What we’ve found is a city alive with spirit, and color, and lights, and that this season – my favorite – is bursting with local traditions, new to us, perhaps to others as well. From light festivals like Winterhaven to the historic Arizona Inn, where 2500 tiny lights are strung on a 16 foot tree that’s then decorated with glass, wooden Santas, colored tin ornaments from Mexico, white doves and more we have found music, snow, theatre and Tucsonans making merry.

We have a tree in our new home, my Byer’s Choice Carolers collection, and a simple wreath on our front door, one with white lights and flocked snow. At night, it illuminates the drive and lights our way.

Each evening, when the temperatures drop and Christmas lights blaze to life, the new traditions present themselves readily. We put on a heavy coat and a scarf, gloves for our hands, and with our beloved Cooper in tow, off we go to walk through our local neighborhoods, breathing in our new city and its festivities. We find ourselves marveling at the decorations, listening to the sounds of children playing and dogs barking, of shoppers rushing to and fro. We’re at home here – we’ve come home – and we’re embracing our new lives in the Old Pueblo. Feliz Navidad indeed.

Comments (1) -

12/28/2013 1:47:32 AM #

New holiday traditions for your new desert life!

Bobbi United States

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

Filter by APML