As befitting a city whose name means “holy faith,” Santa Fe is at its magical best during the Christmas season. A perennial favorite among its many distinctive celebrations is the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk along Canyon Road, a candlelit meander at dusk through the town’s historic district that brings locals and visitors together in a unique expression of seasonal goodwill.

Farolitos, or “little lanterns,” are votive candles anchored in sand inside small brown paper bags that are set along the flat roofs and adobe walls throughout the city. These are said to light the path for the baby Jesus to find his way to homes and businesses to infuse them with the Christmas spirit. They pop up all over town in December—all over New Mexico, in fact, although they go by the name “luminarias” in Albuquerque and points south—but Christmas Eve is the time that everyone focuses on their true symbolism as they stroll along the storied route.

No one quite remembers exactly when the Canyon Road ritual first got started, but most people believe it began sometime in the 1970s, when residents in the area invited friends from around town to amble through their centuries-old neighborhood at sundown to enjoy the simple beauty of hundreds of candles lining the streets and homes in an atmosphere of reverence and fellowship. The event has changed little over the decades, and neighborhood residents extend the spontaneous hospitality Santa Fe is known for: Some homeowners build festive bonfires of piñon wood (known in Northern New Mexico as luminarias, in contrast with Albuquerque’s use of the term) to help participants ward off the winter chill, while others invite the walkers into their homes for a warm drink, a bizcochito (New Mexico’s official state cookie), and a heartfelt exchange of holiday wishes.

In recent years, Canyon Road’s many art galleries have joined the celebration, offering displays of Christmas lights, music performances, and refreshments, but the true soul of the Farolito Walk remains the soft glow of candlelight and the camaraderie of caroling en masse while the aroma of piñon fires fills the air like an earthy incense.

Just steps away from Canyon Road, the Inn on the Alameda provides a perfect headquarters for beginning or ending the walk. You can meet up with your fellow participants at the Agoyo Lounge for some pre-walk fortification—light gourmet fare, fine wines, and a full bar—or adjourn there afterwards to warm up over some small plates and a hot drink (our favorite is Mexican coffee, a comforting blend of brewed coffee laced with tequila and Kahlúa) to extend the glow of this magical evening.