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In The News

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Madrid gets ready to shine for the holiday season

December 07, 2008

Dennis J. Carroll | For The New Mexican

MADRID — Imagine George Bailey's Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life — only instead of The Bailey Building and Loan Co. as the bedrock business of the community, plug in the Mineshaft Tavern or maybe Johnson's Galleries of Fine and Fiber Arts.

"Here in Madrid, we work at keeping (Christmas) special," said Jane Cassidy, marketing coordinator for the Madrid Merchants Association, which represents the community's assortment of fine and funky galleries, shops and eateries.

Just as Bailey did, at Christmas the 450 or so Madrid denizens "are also celebrating a spirit and the celebration of life," said Cassidy, owner of Indigo Gallery. "I don't know if it is a conscious effort or if it is just happening serendipitously. Maybe magic like this emerges when a community of such creative people converges."

Madrid is known across the state and in scattered parts of the world as the home of old and neo-hippies, wild- and wide-eyed optimists and business entrepreneurs who can't, or refuse, to fit in anywhere else; a collection of artists, musicians and poet-bikers who rediscovered this abandoned mining town in a hollow east of the Sandia Mountains in the 1970s and created their own relatively wonderful lives.

Part of the magic may be how the newcomers resurrected Christmas in much the same way the coal miners and their families celebrated the holiday in the 1920s and '30s — lighting up anything that could be plugged into the electrical energy source that their sooty, backbreaking, lung-choking work produced.

The company town of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Co., which abandoned its Madrid operations when the coal ran out in the late 1940s and early '50s, also became famous for its Fourth of July parade and baseball games in what was widely recognized as the first lighted ballpark in the West.

But if it's a wonderful slice of New Mexico winter life you're looking for this holiday, Madrid would be hard to beat anywhere this side of the double rainbows that often arc over the town after a summer thunderstorm.

This year's weekend celebrations were to begin Saturday with a children's Christmas production at the Engine House Theater, a parade, the lighting of the community Christmas tree in front of Maggie's Diner constructed for the set of the Wild Hogs movie, and the arrival of a stage coach and Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The townsfolk once again persuaded KOB-TV news anchor Tom Joles of Albuquerque to be the parade's grand marshal.

"I'm not even sure if people know who that is inside the stagecoach that's waving at them," Joles said. "But the important thing is that everybody has come together and is having a good time."

Joles said he formerly lived down the road in Cedar Crest and has led the parade for about 10 years because "I feel a certain love for folks who live on the east side of the mountains." Plus he figures he keeps getting asked back because they know he will show up. "I am religiously reliable."

After Saturday's hoopla, the 26th anniversary of the renewal of the festivities, the town will be celebrating the holiday every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas. The fun includes the Clauses, the stagecoach rides, caroling and refreshments and other Christmas goodies served up by the merchants.

The decorated Mineshaft will be offering live music and fireside dining, and drawing winners from a raffle created to pay for all the lights. Shops will be open late — until people stop shopping — on Saturdays.

Cassidy said there is a certain commercial element to the festivities. "But it's not corporate."

"Maybe we are a bit like Bedford Falls as we come together and celebrate the value of each other and how important we all are," Cassidy said. "It is a wonderful life, indeed."

Contact Dennis Carroll at dcarroll@sfnewmexican.com.

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