I’m not very traditional and have the honor of being the change agent in our household, which means I’m usually the one saying “Why don’t we try this?” or “We’ve never done that before…” or “Let’s see what this is about!” Sometimes it’s met with tepid enthusiasm. Other times it’s met with cautious silence. This happened in 2007 when I suggested to my husband we spend Christmas in Brugges because Brugges looked like a gingerbread house village where Eurocentric Christmas traditions took root. Mike agreed, understandably wondering what spending a holiday so deeply intertwined with his childhood would look like in a foreign place. Turned out, he loved it. Christmas in Belgium was filled with charcuterie, world-class beer, everything dipped in chocolate, twinkling lights and ice skating.
We liked it so much we flew to London the following Christmas and spent a week there, again eating too much meat, cheese and chocolate, ice skating, hiding from the cold rain in awesome museums and—my favorite—the Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley Hotel with its chocolate-colored walls and gold ornaments.
A few years went by and then in 2013, I got it in my head that we should spend Christmas in Taos, New Mexico, and partake in the Christmas Eve bonfires at Taos Pueblo. This experience is unmatched. There’s still time, so if you’re anywhere near Taos on the night of December 24th, whatever your religious or cultural affiliations, go and see. Taos Pueblo is the only inhabited World Heritage Site in North America and during Christmas Eve, Santa Claus is nowhere to be found, which is refreshing. We attended mass at St. Jerome’s where we actually got there early enough to grab a spot on a pew. After the service, we followed the procession out into the hundreds of luminarias and three large bonfires taller than some houses. And then the procession proceeded without us because we got swept up in the crowds. That’s okay because we still felt like we were part of something quite old and very large. Christmas Eve at Taos Pueblo is about light, a message to the sky. No Santa. No Elf on a Shelf. No glowing reindeer. “Magical” sounds trite and doesn’t even begin to describe how special this event is. Just go.
Lately, we’ve been staycationing at Christmas; flying during the hectic holiday season is sometimes just too much trouble and after 12 years of living in the New York metropolitan area, we’ve all grown hypersensitive to traffic. Even the word “traffic” makes us want to stay home, lock the doors and find something good on TV. We’re a small family so the holidays are just about us and whatever we feel like doing. Christmas Eve, we attend an evening church candlelight service (plus our church has a kick-ass choir) and our neighborhood puts on its own luminarias display. Christmas Day, we uncork champagne, open gifts, and watch vintage movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But if I were to spend Christmas somewhere else again, I’d love to do so in the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America, places where I think there might be a bit more Jesus and sunshine and a bit less Santa and cold. While the commercialism of Christmas bothers me every year, I do love all the lights and Christmas trees (the origami tree at New York’s American Museum of Natural History remains my all-time favorite and is worth braving the crowds) and I’m genuinely moved by the Nativity. I’ve never been very religious and although I was baptized Catholic, I never made Communion. But a story about a down-and-out couple wandering the desert and a baby and angels and people feeling hopeful is pretty cool. It’s not too different from what the Red Willow People at Taos Pueblo do every year—create light in darkness and tell the heavens “We’re still here, doing our best.”