Own your Desert Holiday with these Traditions

Here in the desert the holiday season is almost as defined by what won’t be happening here — snowmen and snowball fights, snow angels, sleigh rides, and ice skating (aside from the occasional synthetic rink).

But people have been adapting their lives and cultures to the desert for millennia now, so it’s no surprise we’ve developed our own rituals and practices around winter holidays, ones that keep us warm and cheerful while honoring the sun, sand, and the special evergreen vegetation that makes our land so remarkable.

  • Luminaria — These simple, and simply iconic, fixtures of the holiday season are a Filipino tradition adapted from the Chinese and imported to the New World via trade ships linking Spain’s territories on either side of the Pacific beginning in the late 1500s. Usually made from paper bags filled with a few inches of sand holding a small candle, electric and solar-powered versions are found in our region as well.


  • Tumbleweed tree or person — You don’t have to try to gather 1,200 of them like the City of Chandler does — just one large one should work, stabilized on a base filled with rocks or sand. These plants way past their time are brittle, so carefully weave ribbons and a string of lights through the branches, then add a few well-chosen and placed ornaments. If you can round up three or more tumbleweeds you can stack them up to create a Southwest-style snowman!


  • Tamales — These delicious bundles of masa and whatever else you please have been carried into battle and long-distance trips for thousands of years in Central and South America and then woven into the fabric of Navidad as families gathered at tamaladas to shoulder the labor-intense preparation to make dozens at a time. Pull a tamale-making party together with your pals to experience the special magic of good company and lots of steam.


  • Wreaths — The sky’s the limit for bending this holiday tradition to your will — just replace or add to the pine branches with prickly pear pads, succulents, a cowboy-style lariat, dried chili peppers, turquoise beading, or whatever else you can come up with!