Hundreds brave cold to ring in new year on Plaza

Santa Fe brought in the New Year in a new way this year, celebrating on the city’s downtown Plaza with music, little piñon bonfires (known as luminarias) and a giant Zia symbol hoisted into the air from the roof of the Catron building.

This was the first time city officials have organized a public celebration for New Year’s Eve, and the City Different was set on doing things a little different from its neighbors. Las Cruces dropped a lit-up red chile at midnight, while Albuquerque also lowered a giant red chile on Nobb Hill and raised a balloon in the Duke City’s civic plaza.

In Santa Fe, the 8-foot by 8-foot red Zia symbol bordered with multicolored lights rose slowly beginning at 11:59 p.m. until it crested above a lit-up 2016 sign at the top of the building. The crowd counted down aloud as the seconds ticked off a digital clock on the building. Organizers had hoped the revelers would sing “Auld Lang Sine” and then “Las Mañanitas,” a beloved Spanish song about the coming of a new day, but only a few tried.

A few hundred bundled up people, from toddlers to the elderly, endured temperatures that plummeted to 19 degrees before midnight, clutching cups of hot chocolate or dancing around to the music of Alex Maryol and his band.

About two dozen propane-powered restaurant heaters and a warming tent helped stave off the cold while people waited for the big event.

Santa Fe natives Richard and Merry Rivera were there with their children, nieces, nephews and friends at 7 p.m., though the event wasn’t set to start until 9:30 p.m. “We’re waiting for the food trucks,” Richard Rivera said. “We usually stay at home for New Year’s, but we decided this was a nice way to all celebrate together downtown with other people.”

At least two men used the occasion to propose to their girlfriends. One of the men, Jonathan Cde Baca, 25, knelt on one knee on the bandstand and proposed to his girlfriend of four years, Leslie Rodriguez, 21, as the crowd cheered.

“I had no idea he was going to ask me,” said a delighted Rodriguez. Cde Baca said he had been planning the moment for a month.

The Santa Fe couple have a 2-year-old son, Bryce, and another baby on the way.

City staff ran around an hour before the event began, turning off the propane heaters as fast as people turned them on. “I’m sorry,” said one staffer, turning off a cheerily lit heater under which half a dozen people huddled. “We only have three hours of fuel.”

Sergio and Rosanelly Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas, stopped by for the festivities. They were waiting for the band to start playing so they could warm up while dancing. “My favorite thing about 2015 is that I went back to school,” said Sergio Hernandez, who hopes to teach high school next year. His wife said her favorite thing about the old year about to pass “is that I retired.”

Mayor Javier Gonzales said prior to the New Year’s Eve festivities on the plaza that he hopes it will become an annual tradition in the City Different and another event to enliven Santa Fe’s nightlife.

City Arts Commission Director Debra Garcia y Griego and Ray Sandoval, who organizes the popular Zozobra event each year, came up with the idea for raising New Mexico’s state symbol.

Sandoval said the Zia symbol represents morning and the rising sun. The Zia symbol is practically synonymous with New Mexico, colored red in the middle of the state’s yellow flag. The symbol was created by and is sacred to Zia Pueblo.

Earlier, people were invited to attach wishes and glow sticks to biodegradable balloons that would be released at midnight. But Tom Jervis of the Sangre de Cristo Audubon Society and other conservationists asked the mayor to reconsider. The balloons pose a hazard to wildlife and would litter the landscape, he said in a letter to the mayor.

The balloons were not part of the festivities.zia