There are farolitos and there are farolitos.

The traditional decorations that line walkways and building tops throughout New Mexico at Christmas time may all look the same to the untrained eye: small paper bags with lights glowing inside them. But to people who consider themselves aficionados, real farolitos use candles secured in sand—not light bulbs—inside paper bags.

Eddie Martinez, head of maintenance for La Fonda, is one who casts his vote for candles. Each night during the Christmas season, Martinez oversees the lighting of hundreds of candles in hundreds of brown bags along the edge of the hotel's multi-level roof. And it is a job that goes back to childhood.

Sitting with La Fonda's official artist, Ernest Medina, recently, Martinez recalled the days when both men were school-age, about 9 or 10, and La Fonda used to hire them to light the farolitos.

"They don't do that any more, because they're afraid of children falling over. But back then, they didn't care much about safety," Martinez said.

Martinez is prepared to defend candle farolitos against any assault. What, for example, of the hard work the candle farolitos require?

"So what if it's a little hard work," Martinez said. "It's something to be proud of. No one wants to work hard nowadays.

"The farolitos are pretty and they're original," he continued. "The wax-coated bags give the candles a luminous glow."

"Yes," chipped in Medina, "The electric ones are all the same. These glow like fire."

The two support their aesthetic judgment with references to economy and safety. As for man-hours, Martinez talked about the time needed with electric farolitos to check for an overload, or broken bulbs. The lights are easily short-circuited because they are exposed to the outside, he said.

Medina agreed. "Electricity is dangerous because of electrical shock," he said.

La Fonda tried electric farolitos once, about six years ago, Martinez said, but "it just didn't work."

It did work elsewhere in Santa Fe, however, and Doroteo Cruz, who was in charge of a batch of old candle farolitos, breathes a sigh of relief when he thinks about it.

Cruz is custodial supervisor for the State Department of Finance, an area which includes the Bataan Memorial was Cruz who, six years ago, the same time La Fonda was experimenting with electric farolitos, decided the state should also make the change. He doesn't regret it for a moment.

This year marks SFR’s 40th anniversary. Celebrate with us by reading excerpts of stories that have graced our pages through the years. La Fonda’s ower says the hotel ditched real candles in 1976. See more about farolitos on page 21.