Christmas display to return to Bugg family
BELEN — Those perky penguins, the Ferris wheel giving stuffed animals a twirl, the teeter totter balancing Raggedy Ann and Andy and other festive adornments in the unique Christmas museum on Becker Avenue will soon make their way from Belen and back home to the Bugg family in Albuquerque.
Ronnie Torres, who helped bring and continue the Christmas display that has brought holiday joy and thousands of people to Belen, announced this will be the last year the Bugg Lights will adorn the Hub City.
“It’s time,” Torres said. “I love it — we love it — but we’ve spent so much time here and making it what it is and haven’t really been able to be with our families during Christmas, and so it’s time we let it go home.”
Norman Bugg, his wife, Joyce, and her sister, Margie, created and began to display the original Christmas lights display in 1971 in the front yard of the family’s Albuquerque home on Hoffman Drive. After complaints from neighbors about the excessive amount of traffic in the neighborhood, the city forced the family to discontinue the display in 2002.
It was first moved to Budaghers, a shopping outlet south of Santa Fe, then after two years, it moved to the Menaul School, where parents volunteered to put up the display every winter for the next seven years.
The Bugg Lights first came to Belen in 2014, and were initially placed at the Belen Harvey House Museum, where Torres worked as a museum tech.
When the city first received the display, Torres remembers they had to refurbish everything because it had been damaged from being outside for so long.
“I still remember, and I have pictures, Patti (Bucklew) and CeCe (Aragon) were out there painting everything — it all needed to be repainted,” he said.
“It was a lot of work, and we used what they had that first year,” Aragon said. “It was that second year that we started adding to the display, and we added blowups in the parking lot at the Harvey House.”
After a few years, the display moved in 2017 to a “permanent” home in a city-owned building at 513 Becker Ave., which Torres and the other volunteers transformed into the Bugg Lights Museum.
“We’ve had them longer than anyone other place than the Bugg family,” Torres said.
The original display will return to the third generation of Bugg family. Norman died in 2017 and Margie passed away last year. Joyce still lives in the home on Hoffman Drive with her son … and grandson, Jason, who takes care of her.
Torres made the decision to give the Christmas display back to the family three or four months ago.
“I came to the conclusion I can’t do this anymore — it’s too hard, it’s too much,” Torres said. “I haven’t spent Christmas with my family for nine years because I’m always here on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
“So I sat down with CeCe (Aragon) and told her she’s retiring, too. She didn’t want to, but I told her she couldn’t say no — we’re not doing it!” said Torres.
While Aragon is still apprehensive about tossing in the towel, she’s come to agree with Torres’ decision.
“I did try and talk him out of it, but I agree, it has gotten harder each year,” Aragon admits, “and we don’t get to spend the holiday season at our own homes.”
In the beginning, when the display was at the Harvey House, they had more volunteer help, and local non-profits and organizations would also assist in exchange for half of the donations.
However, only a few volunteers stepped up to help when the display opened at the Becker Avenue location, leaving the core group of volunteers —Ronnie Torres, CeCe Aragon, Kelly Cross, Larry Huffman and Patti Bucklew — to carry the heavy load, including creating new embellishments each year and setting up the vast outdoor exhibit as well.
“A lot of our own personal stuff is in here,” Torres said. “When we shut it down in January, we’ll walk through and give the family all of the original items and other items that they might want or need. We’ll keep most of what we brought in ourselves and give the rest to the city, like the thousands of LED lights and a lot of the outdoor displays.”
Of the original display, there are about 15 mechanical exhibits still in operation as well as several other adornments that have been refurbished by the volunteers.
“When we first got them, none of the mechanicals worked, so we all learned how to replace the motors,” Torres said. “It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun, too.”
Aragon remembers working hours upon hours refreshing and creating new decorations and characters for the display.
“We all worked so hard,” Aragon said, “and it was worth it just to see the people come in here and their reactions.”
When Torres told her this was the last year, Aragon didn’t want to let the children and the community down, saying it’s been a labor of love.
“It took me a couple of weeks to realize that it’s the right decision,” she said. “I’m not OK-OK, but I’m OK. It does take a lot of work, and we are very tired. I’m very proud of what we did, but I’m more proud that people gave what they could and we are able to expand it.”
Huffman has been working nearly every Friday and Saturday since the museum opened, welcoming visitors and relating the history of the display. At age 86, he said this would have been his final year at the Bugg Lights Museum anyway.
“It surprised me when Ronnie told me this was going to be the last year,” Huffman said. “He asked me if it was alright with me, and I said it was fine with me because this was probably my last year.
“It’s been so much fun,” he said. “All these little boys and girls come in and their eyes get so big and their mouths are open wide … that’s what makes it fun — seeing these little kids in awe.”
Cross, who also worked the front desk at the Bugg Lights Museum, says he feels honored to have been able to be a part of the Christmas tradition.
“It’s very nostalgic and sad, but it’s a lot of work,” Cross said. “It was fun and it was a blast doing it. I’m honored to have been part of it and I’m proud of the work we all did together.”
Wanting everyone to be able to experience the Bugg Lights in Belen, Torres said the admission was always free — a decision many were grateful for.
“One year, a man came into the Harvey House with four, five kids, and I could tell they didn’t have a lot of money,” Torres remembers. “He asks, ‘How much to get in?’ When I said it was free, his eyes got very big. He reached in his pocket and threw a few coins in the donation container. We gave the kids some candy and they went in.
“They looked and they laughed and they enjoyed it so much,” he said. “When they were leaving, he comes up to me and whispered, ‘Thank you so much.’ That was the best feeling. That’s why we do it — for everyone to enjoy.”
While it was Torres’ decision to end the era in Belen, he knows this is the best time to stop and give it back to the Bugg family.
“I love this place, and Mr. Bugg was my hero — I idolized that man,” said Torres as his voice cracked and tears welled up in his eyes. “He was Mr. Christmas, and I just wanted to be like him, giving so much joy. I wanted to make sure (the display) would be good and that he would be proud of it — and he was.
“I’m very happy it’s going back home and will be taken care of by a new generation,” Torres said. “That’s what makes it easier for me to let it go. I’m proud we were able to take care of it for all these years and that it will carry on.”
The volunteers said they’re grateful to the city for the use of the building as well as many others who have generously donated money as well as other items to the museum. Torres also announced all the monetary proceeds given to the Bugg Lights Museum this year will benefit another local organization, the Belen Area Food Pantry.
The Bugg Lights Museum, 513 Becker Ave., in Belen, will be opened from 5-8 p.m., every Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning on Saturday, Nov. 25, through Saturday, Dec. 31.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.