I spoke to my parents this morning; apparently they're getting a snowy winter in Albuquerque this year. Then, an hour later, I took the laundry downstairs, and found that two big packages from home had arrived, filled with Christmas presents. So my thoughts are on home now. Albuquerque, New Mexico is most beautiful in the summer, when the trees are full and green, and the vast blue days give way to sudden, dramatic thunderstorms. But Christmas-time also carries a certain charm. The weather is usually chilly if not snowy, with long freezing nights and bright days of biting cold sun. The city is at its most bare- leafless trees revealing sunbleached streets lined with modest pueblo-style homes. The cafes and boutique shops in Nob Hill provide a great walking street to pick up last minute presents, or to enjoy a Christmas cookie and a cup of coffee. Since my ideas of New Mexico at Christmas are obviously bundled up with a lot of childhood memories, I'm willing to admit I'm being nostalgic. But, in my defense, the city does have a number of local traditions for the holiday that make it special.
The most recognizable of these is the luminarias that appear everywhere around Christmas. Luminarias are brown paper bags, weighed down with sand and lit from inside with tiny votive candles. Toward the end of December, they appear along rooftops (which are traditionally flat, in New Mexico) all around town. Though they're just plain, everyday lunch-bags, they warm up with an unbelievable, orange glow when lit. Last year on Christmas eve, after a dinner of posole and enchiladas, we walked around Old Town. As a big tourist draw, it's always fully decked out for the holidays, and the huddled adobe buildings looked particularly charming in the glow of the luminarias. The massive snowstorm of the previous week had already melted away, and the air was feeling just as dry and crisp as the brown glowing paper itself.