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Madrid, N.M., Celebrates the Holidays and Its History With Festivities

December 01, 2011

For those having trouble getting into the holidays, a trip to Madrid might help revive the Christmas spirit.

According to Melinda Bon’ewell, who is doing the marketing for the little town’s arts community, Madrid will be holding a kind of open house all month long.

Things kick off on Saturday, with a few galleries holding art openings and offering free cookies and hot chocolate.

The big event on the first Saturday of December happens just before sunset, at 4 p.m., when there will be a parade down Madrid’s main drag to the Oscar Huber Memorial ballpark. That parade is open to just about anyone who wants to show off their animal, artwork or their Madrid flair.

“It’s always fun and unique and funky,” she said.

It seems appropriate that the parade should end at the ballpark — where the Madrid artists’ community will meet up with a bit of the town’s history.

The ballpark ranks among the country’s first lighted ballparks, and it is there that they will light a display of old-timey trumpet players near the restored grandstands. After that, visitors can head back to see the town come alive with lights.

Christmas in Madrid has a grand history which has a lot to do with electric lights and its past as a mining town.

“Because of our coal mining, we had this huge power plant,” she said. “It supplied an immense amount of electricity.”

And that turned out to mean lots and lots of displays for the little town. Back then, it was something of a phenomenon.

It’s important to put the situation in context. These days it isn’t all that unusual for a neighbor to go a little nuts over the holidays and staple thousands of electric lights to his house. But just 70 to 80 years ago, airlines would re-route planes to fly over the electric light displays in Madrid.

In fact, in the 1930s and ’40s, articles about festivities in the little town appeared in publications all over the country, including Collier’s Magazine, Miami Daily News, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Chicago Tribune. Bon’ewell said the displays may have even inspired Walt Disney to include the Main Street Electrical Parade in his amusement park.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s true,” she said.

The coal company showed off its power plant with about 100,000 electric bulbs, she said, and it lit up the hillsides with Christmas scenes.

Many of those old scenes still exist and will be on display again this year.

After the parade, visitors can stroll in and out of artists’ galleries, visit Santa Claus and maybe stop by a bonfire to sing carols, pet a dog, a donkey or an emu. After that, they can stop off for a drink and a little live music by Madrid’s bluegrass band, The Family Coal, at the Mine Shaft Tavern. The tavern will have live music Friday through Sunday, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For more information about Madrid’s Christmas events and art openings, go to, or call Bon’ewell’s gallery, Cowgirl Red, at 505-474-0344.

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