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Visitors from around the world mark Christmas in southern NM

For those who happen to be heading for the warmth of the southern part of the state, several cities are going all-out to celebrate the holiday season.

In Carlsbad, one of the more unique celebrations has been going for almost three decades with Christmas on the Pecos River event.

The Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce sponsors boat rides on the Pecos River throughout the season.

Awarded one of the top 100 “must see” events in North America by the American Business Association for the past 20 years, the event runs nightly throughout December except on Christmas Eve, said Lisa Boeke, Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce tourism director.

A 40-minute float down the river takes visitors past more than 100 homes and businesses alight with various displays.

Visitors travel from across the globe to Carlsbad to view the spectacle, Boeke said.

“We have people come from New York, Germany, all over,” she said.

Three pontoon boats are used, and the trip changes every year.

“It’s really extravagant,” Boeke said. “They have a lot of intricate displays. They have everything from Santas to angels to cars.”

Every December, the staff at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, along with local folks, continues a traditional performance in the underground big room, said Michael Larson, the park’s chief of interpretation and education.

Known as Rock of Ages, the event presents a history of the cave and the people instrumental to making it a national park, he said.

The two-hour tour, which requires reservations, is a stroll of about three-fourths of a mile through the front half of the Big Room, “allowing enough time for stops and various performances,” Larson said. “It will be fun. The characters wear as close to period clothing as we’re able to, so you can connect with the history of Carlsbad Caverns.”

Rock of Ages is performed nightly Dec. 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23.

The tradition is believed to have started in the 1920s when renowned baritone Cameron McClean was touring the cave, at one point becoming so overwhelmed with the sights that at the high point in the Big Room he burst into the hymn “Rock of Ages.” The large column there has been called that ever since.

The first Rock of Ages ceremony took place on July 27, 1928, and the event continued for several decades before it was discontinued. The tradition was revived in 2000 and has become a staple of the local December calendar.

In Las Cruces, the Plaza in Old Mesilla is the place to be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve as luminarias and Christmas carols light up the evening.

On Dec. 10, Fort Selden will be lit from 6 to 9 p.m. with its Luminaria Tour in an evening of family-friendly activities, including a free program of children’s crafts, cookies and hot cocoa, singing and tree decorating.

The Festival of the Trees is an extravaganza of yuletide decorations, said Rebecca Martin of the Silver City Arts and Cultural District.

“It’s really awesome,” Martin said. “We’re all trying to outdo each other. The locals all want to show off their stuff.”

The friendly competition, from Dec. 8 to 10 and Dec. 14 to 17, is a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Montessori School and attracts as many as 30 live trees that are later available for purchase. The event also includes live seasonal plants for sale and a local artisan gift market.

On Dec. 14, the program is run in conjunction with the Silver City Museum’s Victorian Christmas Celebration.

Museum staff and volunteers dress in period pieces, and local bands perform holiday music as folks visit the period decorations in the Victorian-style house, Martin said. This marks the event’s 33rd year.

Free rides between the two events are available on the Holiday Inn Express vintage firetruck.