Everything’s just a little more intense in New Mexico. The colors are a little bit brighter, the emotions run a little bit higher, the sounds resonate a little bit louder, the smells waft a little bit stronger. You may think that it’s just that I have a special attachment to this region, which is true, but part of the reason this was the place that drew my parents to stop wandering and so many others to conclude the land was charged with spiritual enchantment is just what I’m talking about. You might say the dials in New Mexico go up to 11 and, indeed, only to 11. There is very little off in this state.

It’s the most poignant time for me in New Mexico, namely Christmas Eve, the day of luminarias. I’ve explained luminarias sufficiently in prior years and prior posts to not revisit the topic in depth (click any recent December in the archive for a host of pictures and such). And as much as I fought the initial selection of this house and the departure from 12th Street, I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to do a display each year that thousands of people see as part of the most visited luminaria display in the world. (There probably aren’t many in the world outside of Albuquerque, but I hear tell there are a few.) My friends, especially those with birthplaces or kindergarten enrollments in this state, chide my enthusiasm for sanded candled bags, but there’s no dedication like the passion of the converted. And given my reaction to the Ganga Aarti of floating candles in Varanasi, it may be that the closest I find to the physical manifestation of God is a series of countless lit candles in a wide expanse.

Of course, I do count my bags and candles, well, religiously, each year. There are currently 693 candled bags ready to go, over 200 of which have already been placed on the roof in one of the most extensive roof displays I’ve ever attempted. I say “attempted” in part because winds are expected to gust a bit this afternoon, and aside from rain, wind is the biggest enemy of the successful lighting of lumis. Indeed, I will have to post the actual figure later for posterity since I may end up getting ambitious and adding a few late luminarias and it’s also possible that there will be enough of a wipeout that all 693 don’t get used. For context, the last three years I’ve been here have been my three largest displays, with 620 in 2008, a record 772 in 2010, and 610 last year. I spent Christmas Eve 2009 in Clovis and did a small display for the Garin clan as we’d discussed doing for many years in a row.

And while I’m posting numbers of various sorts, it should be noted now and forever that the length of the fabled Luminaria Stick is almost exactly fifteen inches. This is the measuring stick, a wooden piece of discarded molding, that is hauled out annually to ensure proper spacing. Almost every year, there is a brief intense discussion and a flurry of panic in the household about the location of the stick, if it’s been lost, if someone accidentally burned it, and promises to measure the darn thing to lower the stakes of a possible loss in the future. I was pretty confident it was fifteen inches when we had this year’s extended version of this little drama, and it turns out that was the result of at least some hurried measurement in a prior December. In any case, we’d outsmarted ourselves last Christmas by packing it in a Christmas box that was sure to be opened well before the 24th, only to postpone decorating this year till the 23rd and incite the most complete resignation to the Stick being lost yet, right before we found it.

This year the roof was done with a 16.5 inch stick while we were certain that The Stick was lost, but honestly that might be better given the optics of distance and how one’s mind will envision further things as more tightly spaced than closer.

And now, as I finish my coffee, I must away to my most sacred task of the year. I was joking with my father yesterday that I would awaken this morning and bound out of bed like it was Christmas morning, only to note the mild irony of that sentiment. Luminarias are my Christmas, though. Would that we could all replace the commercialism and sensationalism of the season with a simple offering of light along the path of the weary wanderer.

See you out there.