The University of New Mexico-Gallup recently continued its successful Holiday in New Mexico tradition with nearly 1,000 luminarias, more than 800 biscochitos, and a musical finale by mariachi entertainer Antonio Reyna.

Families and children who visited the campus delighted in the festive decorations and the arrival of Santa Claus atop a Gallup Fire Department firetruck with a Campus Police escort. UNM mascot Lobo Louie was also thrilled to see Santa, giving him a big hug when he arrived.

Santa 3
Santa Claus, aka Patrick Moore, hugs a child during Holiday in New Mexico at UNM-Gallup.

Visitors also enjoyed the various activities organized by the branch campus’ departments and student clubs, including coloring, treats, ring toss games, chess, temporary tattoos, a North Pole Experience, and more.

“I loved the event,” UNM-G Student Veterans Association Vice President Rhonda Herbert said. “My family enjoyed the booths, games, Santa, and the hot chocolate with biscochitos. They loved the whole experience, and I did too.”

Herbert and the Student Veterans Association gave out about 150 clay ornaments to visitors at their booth. Families and kids then got to decorate the ornaments to take home for themselves or to gift to their loved ones and even pets.

One of Herbert’s favorite moments of the night was when one boy stopped by to decorate three ornaments.

“He was so happy with how they came out,” Herbert recalled. “I asked him, ‘Why three?’ He said, ‘Oh, well one for my mom in heaven, one for my foster mom, and the other is so they don’t forget me.’ He had the biggest and brightest smile and thanked us. He brought me tears. I had to take a break because I was once in that same situation.”

A campus community effort
SkillsUSA students handed out more than 800 biscochitos, which were made by BombDiggity’s. Earl’s Restaurant donated gallons of hot chocolate for visitors. And The Enchilada Lady made 80 bowls of posole for UNM-G employees and volunteers who helped make Holiday in New Mexico possible.

Home Depot donated several light projectors and string lights along with two pre-lit Christmas trees to create a more festive atmosphere around the campus and inside the Calvin Hall Center Auditorium.

Jean Paul Van Derdys Vidal, a Spanish adjunct at UNM-Gallup, sang and played the guitar inside the Ingham Chapman Gallery, which featured the Fall 2023 Fine Arts Student Show. The exhibit showcased the promising work of UNM-Gallup art students, including Navajo-style rugs, drawings, paintings, sculptures and jewelry.

Officers of the Art Student Collective designed Winter Wishes cards for people to color and write what they wanted for the holidays. Club members also decorated colorful signs to welcome visitors to the campus and to help direct foot traffic to the auditorium.

Dozens of volunteers — including students, staff, faculty and executives — helped build, place and light nearly 1,000 luminarias around the entrance of the UNM-Gallup campus to create a warm welcome for Holiday visitors.

“All I have to say is that it was really fun seeing everyone get together as a community to not only help set up the event but also celebrate it,” UNM-Gallup student Nickolaus Brown said.

Mariachi 14
Gallup-born mariachi entertainer Antonio Reyna performs inside Calvin Hall Center Auditorium during the finale of Holiday in New Mexico at UNM-Gallup.

Hometown mariachi hero
The evening concluded with a performance by mariachi entertainer Antonio Reyna, who was born and raised in Gallup. The hometown hero sang a medley of mariachi songs inside the Calvin Hall Center Auditorium and stuck around afterward to meet with fans, take photos and sign autographs.

Prior to the show, Reyna also mingled with fans inside Gurley Hall.

“What an amazing time last night at UNM-Gallup's Holiday in New Mexico event,” Reyna stated via his Facebook page. “Met so many wonderful people, saw some old friends and had so much fun performing for you. Thank you for including me in your event.”

Tina Griego, administrative assistant to the dean, helped hand out tickets for Reyna’s free show. She also worked behind the scenes to purchase all of the supplies needed for the entire event. She said her favorite moment of the night was visiting and reminiscing with Reyna.

“It was so great,” she said of Reyna’s performance. “He is truly a fabulous entertainer.”

Ron Petranovich, manager of the Physical Plant at UNM-G, was also a big fan of Reyna and his performance.

“It was very enjoyable,” Petranovich said. “We need to have more of these cultural events on campus.”

The show was also streamed live on the UNM-Gallup Facebook page. A recording of the performance can still be viewed there.

‘A lot of meaningful memories’
Both Griego and Petranovich reflected on the tradition of celebrating the holidays at UNM-Gallup and what it means for the community.

“I have been attending Holiday in NM for approximately 30 years (it used to be called Holiday Magic) and it is something that all of my children have performed at throughout the years,” Griego said. “It holds a lot of meaningful memories.”

UNM-Gallup has been celebrating the holidays for decades, but the event has gone through several iterations, including being known as Holiday Magic, Illumination Celebration, Holiday Lightfest, and Lights On. In 2013, the event was re-born as Holiday in New Mexico thanks to the work of the late Merilee Petranovich.

Holiday in New Mexico has continued ever since — except for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic when it was put on hold.  

“No doubt for three decades now, this is what the event has been about,” Ron Petranovich said. “It’s nice to see folks that normally would come up to the college here for this event, plus family and kids.”

The following UNM-Gallup departments and clubs organized booths and participated in Holiday in New Mexico: Advisement, Accessibility Resource Center, Art Student Collective, Asian Culture Club, Bookstore, Business Operations, Chancellor’s and Dean’s Office, Division Chairs, Financial Aid, Fine Arts, Human Resources, Information Technology, Lobos Chess Club, Medical Laboratory Technology, Multimedia Club, SkillsUSA, Student Veterans Association, TRIO Student Support Services, TRIO Upward Bound, and Zollinger Library.

The event was organized by the Holiday Planning Committee, which is made up of UNM-Gallup staff, faculty and students.

Carousel images: 

  • Luminarias and string lights decorate the UNM letters and Lobo statute in front of the Student Services and Technology Center during Holiday in New Mexico at The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus.
  • Students Kayliegh Begay and Aiyana Chavez write and color on Winter Wishes cards during Holiday in New Mexico.
  • Spanish adjunct Jean Paul Van Derdys Vidal sings and plays guitar inside the Ingham Chapman Gallery.
  • Human resources tech Wilma Lee, center, shares a laugh with Student Success Specialist Andrea Wilson, right, during Holiday in New Mexico at UNM-Gallup. Lee is joined by her daughter Brianna Charley, left.
  • Luminarias illuminate the entrance to The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus during Holiday in New Mexico

    Photo credit: Richard Reyes