BELEN — The forecast for Saturday is partly sunny, a high of 41 and lots and lots of twinkling lights.
A literal million lights will sparkle up and down Becker Avenue during the city of Belen’s 35th annual Miracle on Main Street celebration this weekend.
The lights and decorations don’t appear magically — it takes months of planning and countless hours of work to create the twinkle and glow of the annual event.
“We start planning in July,” said Joshua Kerns, the city’s parks and recreation and tourism director.
A laminated aerial Google map of Becker Avenue is rolled out on Kerns’ desk in his office at the Belen Community Center. Neat notes along one edge show the time line for the massive decorating project, along with job duties of city department employees.
Even lighting schemes are noted along the street — green for the Grinch’s tent and cool whites and reds for Santa Claus. The displays with warm whites are closer to the gazebo and Main Street, so as not to cause visual disharmony.
“We start actually building in November — Nov. 1 is our big push,” he said. “That’s when people will actually start seeing lights going up.”
There are seven employees in the department supervised by Kerns, four of who are dedicated to decorations this time of year.
“We have to have people here, manning the center and keeping our programs going,” he said. “It takes everyone helping in some way to do this.”
Not only are employees working to create a magical experience for the community, but so are their families, including Kern’s wife of three years, DamiAna, and her parents.
“To really appreciate this event, you have to understand the time that is donated. I have my crew, who is taking care of our everyday jobs of parks and recreation, as well as doing all the decorating,” he said. “And they are donating their time, too. This week, we’re probably looking at 12-hour days.
“I don’t ask them to do any of this but they will stay two or three hours extra a day to get this done, and they don’t get compensated for that. Neither do our family members, obviously. They help just to make something that’s magical for the community.”
Getting the street decorated is never a straight-forward prospect, Kerns says, as anyone who has wrangled Christmas decorations knows.
“We have to test every strand that we’re gong to put up and replace bulbs. Check for holes in infatables and maybe patch them. It’s never easy,” he said.
He and his team learned the hard way that taking the “lazy route” isn’t always beneficial. Last year, they decided to leave the overhead lights that form the U.S. flag at the entrance to Becker Avenue.
“It didn’t work out very well because the sun faded the blue and red, so now instead of restringing it (at the center) we were up there in the bucket truck doing it,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s so many factors that play in with Christmas decorations.”
The decorating process can also be slowed down by Mother Nature. There was a two-day delay this week, as high winds swept through the Hub City on Monday and Tuesday, making it unsafe for employees to be up on lifts and ladders.
There’s also some theft and vandalism. This year, some lights were stolen from a display outside the Belen Public Library and last year, several light cords were cut.
“It’s frustrating because we have to go back and redo it, which takes us away from being able to complete other projects” he said.
Many of the decorations along Becker are made by staff and volunteers from repurposed items in an effort to save the city money, he said.
Santa’s new chair — a massive affair that stands about 6-feet tall — was created using two defunct stuffed chairs, a good deal of plywood and lots of red fabric. The base for the Nutcracker snow globe — which will feature a live ballerina — was made from an old trampoline frame and some siding, then hand painted by Kerns’ wife.
“We’re trying to keep it as low cost as possible for the city, so instead of buying a bunch of things that might cost thousands of dollars, we stay and make it,” he said. “My crew will build whatever crazy idea I come up with.”
Even being creative, there has to be some money spent on the event and this year’s total price tag is looking like it will come in somewhere around $10,000 to $12,000. Kerns said about half will pay for the three live bands performing on Saturday.
The remainder has gone to new, upgraded LED lights, which will use less power and last longer than the lights the department already has, as well as hot chocolate and marshmallows for the day, prizes for parade participants and raffle prizes.
Staff time will be paid out of lodger’s taxes and the department’s budget, Kerns said.
“It’s also the little stuff we need to make this event safe. We can’t have a bunch of extension cords running across the walkways, so we have to buy covers. We need eye bolts and tie downs for some of the displays,” he said. “This is probably the biggest event for the community and we don’t really ask for anything.”
The parade and vendor fees — $10 per float and $25 per booth, respectively — go towards paying for the prizes, hot chocolate and marshmallows, Kerns said, and sometimes, the city doesn’t actually get that cash.
Both vendors and parade entrants can donate items to the event, such as toys or decorations, rather than paying the fees, Kerns said.
“We had one vendor donate a couple of trees that were worth probably $100 for their fee,” he said. “We work with them and they help us out. It’s about being able to create something.”
The event has grown in the last five years, stretching for several blocks and drawing nearly 50 floats and parade entries this year, with some coming over the mountains from Mountainair and up from Socorro.
“We have expanded from our community of Belen to the surrounding areas,” Kerns said. “People made this a tradition after coming for our festival during our COVID year. There was nothing going on. People were taking drives everywhere and this was one they came to. Now people are coming from even further out to come to this festival; they’ve created a tradition.”
If you go:
The city of Belen’s 35th annual Miracle on Main Street will be held from 1-8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 17. This will be a mega event featuring more than one million lights.
Events include pictures with Santa and the Grinch, Frozen’s Elsa, Anna, and Olaf, a marshmallow roast with the Belen Fire Department, the Bugg Lights Museum and the Belen MainStreet Partnership food drive.
Daniel Solis will perform from 1-3 p.m. at the gazebo, Severo from 3-5 p.m., and Black Pearl Band from 5-8 p.m.
The Electric Light Parade will be held from 5-5:30 p.m.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.