Photography ©Tira Howard.

‘Tis the Season

Outdoor Holiday Decorations

by Geoff Lambeth

As winter arrives in Santa Fe, the city begins to change. Aspen leaves turn brown-yellow as oak leaves turn burnt orange and dark red. Crisp, colorful leaves litter the ground as branches free themselves from the weight. Santa Feans pull coats, scarves and hats from the back of their closets, preparing to venture out into brisk evening air. Snow falls while the city sleeps.

For many Santa Feans, the smell of smoke from wood-burning fireplaces epitomizes the season’s mood. The fragrance of piñon and juniper wafts through the air. And as the season settles in, lights spread across the city. Twinkling lights crawl up trees and along rooflines, and candles flicker on doorsteps and along driveways. The city is alive with color and light as Santa Feans decorate their homes and businesses.

The holiday lights emphasize the city’s unique architectural style: adobe homes, buildings and walls, and flat roofs are the perfect backdrop for holiday decorations. Charles Doerwald, founder of El Toro Landscape, believes that since every decorating project is different, it’s best to start with a plan. “There’s a lot of value in getting a master plan down,” he says. “Even if you don’t do all the work at once, it helps to think comprehensively about a project.”

“Larger piñon trees are really beautiful if you just wrap them fairly densely, starting at the ground and going up into the structure of the tree.”

Doerwald works with many styles of outdoor decoration and landscaping. He notes that piñon and aspen trees are just right for tree lighting. “Larger piñon trees are really beautiful if you just wrap them fairly densely, starting at the ground and going up into the structure of the tree a little,” he advises. For a bigger impact, “groves of aspen are cool if you do the same thing.” He recommends combining different light colors to reflect the individual style and goals of a project. He says that by using green and white lights, and then adding red chili ristras with red lights, “you kind of have a Christmas color trifecta.”

A ristra display in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Ristras line a doorway in Santa Fe, while farolitos are waiting to be lit along the path. Photography ©Tira Howard.

Sitting atop walls or along driveways and walkways, farolitos make beautiful holiday decorations. These small lanterns, made from brown paper bags with lit votive candles anchored inside in sand, are at home in New Mexico. The warm, soft glow of burning candles, sheltered from the evening breeze, provides holiday cheer. While traditionally associated with Christmas Eve, farolitos are also a popular secular year-end holiday decoration.

Evergreen boughs, foliage and other natural decorations contribute to a festive — and often fragrant — holiday atmosphere. For example, red chili ristras hanging from gates, doorways or outdoor vigas will provide a bright splash of color. Dried heirloom corn and maize, speckled with dark reds and browns peeking from crunchy husks, can be incorporated into wreathes. Green tree trimmings fashioned into wreathes or swags can be studded with pinecones, sprigs with berries, twisted ribbon or colorful ornaments, and perhaps twinkle lights.

Santa Fe’s winter season invites celebration. And even this year, as families and individuals elect to stay home, celebrating the holidays with warm lights and simple, natural decorations may be a reminder of the love and thanksgiving that accompanies winter’s cold nights and short days.

Geoff Lambeth

Geoff Lambeth is a writer and photographer based in Santa Fe. He spends his free time backpacking, traveling to new places and enjoying old music. Passionate about pursuing under reported issues and sharing untold stories, Geoff aims to showcase a range of experiences and viewpoints through his work.


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