Belen — The Bugg Lights, a nostalgic Christmas staple for many New Mexicans, celebrates five decades of lighting up the season this year.
“It’s nice to see that it’s 50 years old,” said Belen City Councilor Ronnie Torres, who is a member of the Belen Art League. “So many people came in this year already who have followed it throughout its whole history. They went to the original home, then they went to Budaghers, at the Menaul School, at the Harvey House and now they’re here.”
Norman Bugg created and began to display the original Christmas lights display in 1972 at his family’s Albuquerque home on Hoffman Drive. After complaints from the neighbors about the inordinate amount of visitors making their way to the quiet neighborhood, in 2002, the display found a temporary home in Budaghers, just north of Albuquerque, before living seasonally at the Menaul School for a decade.
The display came to Belen in 2014, where Torres and other volunteers worked to put up the display every Christmas season at the Belen Harvey House Museum. In 2019, the display got a permanent home on Becker Avenue.
Torres has worked as a museum tech when the Bugg Lights came to Harvey House a few years ago. Now he describes himself as “head volunteer” and helps to run the Bugg Lights Museum, take care of the display, set up the seasonal portions of the display and organize other volunteers.
The museum is open for their holiday hours until Dec. 31, when anybody can visit the historic display for free, however donations are optional. Since the museum is run on donations, Torres said the average visitor pays about $1 each to visit.
“I know you can go to Albuquerque and go to that drive-thru of lights and pay $50 a carload, or you can go to the River of Lights and pay $17 an individual and $8 or $9 a kid,” Torres said. “Ours is still free and we keep it that way so that people of any socioeconomic background can enjoy it.”
Every year the volunteers work to expand the display so people can visit and get something new out of the experience. This year, they added turquoise twinkle lights to the trees in the outdoor display and changed around the display as a result of the flood in July, which ruined the fake snow throughout the museum.
“We want to make sure that it gets expanded every year and we make it’s a little new for people to come and see it,” he said. “(The twinkle lights) just give a little bit of movement to the display so it doesn’t look so stagnant.”
There are also plans to further improve the display for next year, but they haven’t yet begun the endeavor to improve for next year.
For now, Torres is thankful the museum can be part of the revitalization of Becker Avenue during the holiday season.
It is the museum’s goal to continue improving and expanding the display so New Mexicans — and anyone else wanting to get into the Christmas spirit — can continue to enjoy it for generations.
“They just enjoyed (the museum) and some of them that have gone are actually bringing their grandchildren to see it now. It’s something that’s multi-generational,” Torres said. “People just keep coming back, keep looking at it and they are also thankful it’s still going, preserved, safe.
“It’s part of their history and their traditions that they’ve had forever. That’s what we love about it”
The Bugg Lights Museum, located at 513 Becker Ave. in Belen, is open from 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, and from 5-8 p.m., Sundays until Dec. 31. The museum is free, but donations are welcomed.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.