The Canyon Road Farolito Walk: Santa Fe's iconic Christmas Eve tradition
By Chadd Scott on
I checked another item off my “Essential West” bucket list attending the Canyon Road Farolito Walk in Santa Fe on Christmas Eve. Each year, tens of thousands of residents and tourists stroll the famed half-mile lined with art galleries to experience a one night, holiday, luminary event unlike any other.
But don’t use that word here.
In northern New Mexico, small paper bags weighted down with sand in the bottom and a candle placed inside are called “farolitos” – borrowing from the Spanish, meaning “little lanterns.” The rest of the world, even southern New Mexico, may consider them “luminaria,” but in Santa Fe, they’re farolitos.
Ventana Gallery on Canyon Road lit up for Farolito Walk 2023 | Photo by Chadd Scott
Pleasantly surprising to me, the farolitos along Canyon Road are mostly the genuine article – real candles, not cheapo plastic lights.
Determining when, exactly, this annual tradition began proves difficult.
Surely it followed Spanish colonization and the introduction of Catholicism to northern New Mexico around 1600. In the 1800s, Catholics across the region were lighting small fires along pathways to their homes and churches helping the Holy Family find its way. By the 1930s, the bags were a holiday fixture in Santa Fe.
Which year specifically placing thousands of farolitos along Canyon Road and folks coming in big numbers to see them first became a thing proves surprisingly elusive for a now iconic tradition. The best answer seems to be, “as long as I can remember,” no matter who you ask in town.
Canyon Road Farolito Walk FAQ’s
Is there an admission price?
Nope. The Farolito Walk is free to enjoy.
When does the Farolito Walk take place?
Each Christmas Eve from sundown – 5:30ish – to about 9:00.
Where can I park?
Nowhere near Canyon Road.
With upwards of 50,000 people crowding the two-lane road, the street is closed to car traffic. The equally narrow neighborhood streets offer no relief, nor do the streets in town during this busiest of seasons.
You’re going to need to walk to the intersection of Canyon Road and Paseo De Peralta where the Farolito Walk begins. Ideally, if you’re staying in town, you can walk from your hotel. If not, there are public parking lots in Santa Fe about a half mile away.
Crowds enjoying the Canyon Road Farolito Walk 2023 | Photo by Chadd Scott
Are the galleries open?
A few of the 100-plus art galleries along Canyon Road open during the Farolito Walk, but the vast majority do not.
How long does the Farolito Walk take?
An hour is plenty if all you want to do is walk.
Tips for Enjoying the Santa Fe Farolito Walk
Unless you’ve been to northern New Mexico, it may surprise you how cold it gets there. Santa Fe’s elevation is nearly 7,000 feet. On the night of December 24th, expect it to be cold! Bundle up.
And potentially icy.
It was in 2023 for my first visit, Santa Fe having received an inch of snow the night before. Snow removal in Santa Fe leaves a great deal to be desired. Canyon Road had sheets of ice along its length, and I saw more than one person slip and fall. Leave the cowboy boots and heels behind in favor of hiking boots or anything with tread on the bottom.
Canyon Road Farolito Walk 2023 | Photo by Chadd Scott
Even when it’s not icy, Canyon Road at night is dark and uneven. Sidewalks are no better. It’s uphill. Sadly, this is not an accessible event for anyone with mobility challenges.
You will find small piñon fires along the route providing respite from the cold – along with the open galleries – and a variety of musical groups and singers performing carols; what you won’t find are food or beverage stations or public restrooms.
Is Canyon Road Farolito Walk Worth Attending?
Santa Fe is magnificently festive and beautiful at the holidays and the Farolito Walk is one of the distinguishing attributes making it so. The visual of thousands of illuminated farolitos against a backdrop of adobe walls, large sculptures outside galleries, and giant cottonwood trees will be one I long remember and hope to recreate often.
Farolitos illuminate sculptures outside a gallery on Canyon Road | Photo by Chadd Scott