A working-scale coal locomotive made Toyland a hit with young and old back in Madrid’s Christmas celebration heyday

Merry Madrid

New Mexico’s Christmas Town

by Amy Grodd

December 2015/January 2016

It’s a small town, but Madrid’s Christmas traditions are huge—and have been since the 1920s, when an extravagant annual festival of lights drew 100,000 visitors every December. The ballpark was converted into “Toyland,” complete with a working scale coal locomotive. The town’s four hills, alternately lighting up and fading out, told the biblical story of Christ’s birth, ending at a scale model of Bethlehem (on Bethlehem Hill), where a lighted angel would zip down a line in the dark to a star that lit up in the night. It was a display so amazing that early Pan Am flights altered their flight patterns so that passengers might look down and catch a glimpse.

It was a [lighting] display so amazing that early Pan Am flights altered their flight patterns so that passengers might look down and catch a glimpse.

Madrid’s Christmas light tradition ended when the United States entered WWII, but not before—or so the story goes—Walt Disney’s visit to the town inspired him to build Disney World. Today’s light displays are not quite so elaborate, but Madrid still joyously celebrates the holiday that put it on the map. The annual Christmas Parade, held on the first Saturday in December (December 5 this year) is quirky and fun—but so brief that if you blink you might miss it. Get into town early to find parking, says Lisa Conley of the Madrid Merchants Association. Every Saturday throughout the month, galleries stay open later with carolers, farolitos, marshmallow roasting, and bonfires to warm hearts and fingers.

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