The annual Electric Light Parade in Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the most beguiling of the state's many holiday pageants.
The floats are homemade, and their drivers sometimes turn down the wrong streets, but the flatbeds, pickup trucks, bicycles, and even a backhoe that are typically part of the procession are all festooned with sparkling lights. You might see an old Volkswagen Beetle followed by a Harley-Davidson whose rider's helmet glitters with lights too.
The Electric Light Parade, held on the first Saturday of December, is only one reason to make the trek to Las Vegas at this time of year. Virtually the entire historic railroad town seems devoted to Christmas.
Begin your outing at the central Old Town Plaza. Pastimes Café ($; closed Sat–Sun; 113 Bridge St.; 505/454-1755) has fine, light fare for lunch. Most of the plaza's shops mount holiday shows; Art and Stones (247 Plaza St.; 505/425-7811) has an inventory ranging from landscape paintings to rough-hewn Zen fountains.
Plaza Antiques (closed Tue–Wed; 1805 Plaza; 505/454-9447) showcases a range of antiques and collectibles, with a wonderful selection of picturesquely battered furniture. Also not to be missed is Tapetes de Lana (closed Sun; 1814 Plaza; 505/426-8638), a nonprofit organization featuring high-quality, low-priced rugs made by local artisans. As evening comes, buy hot chocolate and warm up while you browse at Second Tome Around (131 Bridge; 505/454-8511), a used-book store, then stroll the surrounding neighborhood, with its restored Victorian homes outlined in lights.
Dine in style at the historic Plaza Hotel's Landmark Grill ($$; reservations recommended; 230 Plaza; 800/328-1882), which offers a bargain-priced steak-and-lobster dinner the night of the parade. Watch the procession from the restaurant's long picture window. Or, if the evening is mild, head outside to cheer. Don't be surprised if one of the homey floats steers off course. Wave, sigh happily, and feel gladdened that any Christmas pageant can still feel sweetly improvisational.
Las Vegas, NM, is 65 miles east of Santa Fe on I-25. The Electric Light Parade starts around 8 p.m. on Dec 4; for more information, contact the Las Vegas San Miguel Chamber of Commerce (www.lasvegasnm.org or 505/425-8631).