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Chili pepper drop to mark New Mexico New Year Event

Why not a falling, giant, lighted chile pepper to ring in the New Year?

Dropping the lighted ball in Times Square in New York City has long been a symbol of the passing of the old and the welcoming in of the new at midnight each New Year's Eve. But creative event planners in Las Cruces, New Mexico, are turning up the heat to mark their special holiday.

Leave it to the Land of Enchantment and the home of New Mexico's famous Hatch Chile industry to dream up an event that both honors the state's spicy food favorite and celebrates a traditional holiday festival.

Southern New Mexico is known for its white sands, deep caverns, Trinity Site where the first atomic bomb was detonated, a 21st century spaceport, the alleged site of a controversial and well publicized crash of an alien spacecraft, and the largest array of powerful radio telescopes that keep constant watch on the vastness of space. The region is also known for a rich agricultural heritage, including such notable crops as chile peppers, onions, some of the nation's highest rated pecan varieties and the leading crop of alfalfa to be found in North America.

It makes for a strange mix of identity markers, so why not a falling, giant, lighted chile pepper to ring in the New Year?

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Russ Smith, who is working with Project Mainstreet, sponsors of the Las Cruces New Year's Eve Street Party, says it is only fitting that New Mexico's famous chile serve as the spotlight for the citywide holiday festival.

Las Cruces is centrally located between the famous chile-growing areas in nearby Hatch and Deming. Known for its unique and savory flavor created by a combination of soils and climate, the special varieties of chile peppers grown across the region are central to the cuisine of the state, which was shaped by the multi-cultural influences of Spanish (Mediterranean), Mexican, Pueblo Native American and cowboy chuck wagon cooking styles.

Red or green?

One of the most repetitious questions in restaurants across the state is "red or green," a reference to the two most popular varieties of the local chile harvested in New Mexico.

It should come as little surprise then that when the idea of giant chile pepper drop to commemorate the ringing in of the New Year first surfaced, the first response to the idea was "green or red," referring to what color the chile pepper prop should be for the big occasion.

Smith says after arguments erupted in support of both colors, event planners decided the only way to settle the question was to leave it up to the community.

"People can vote at two sites up until Christmas Day on whether they prefer the lighted chile to be dropped should be green or red. They can vote at either or on the event's Facebook page," Smith said.

The Facebook page (and poll) can accessed at

Smith says the big chile prop will be brightly decorated with 400 feet of lights—either red or green depending on votes received. The chile drop is the culmination of the citywide party that will ring in the New Year.

Leading the entertainment will be Grammy-nominated and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jerome Anthony Gourdine, who will perform at the Rio Grande Theater. Gourdine, better known as Little Anthony, will deliver his one-man show celebrating 56 years in show business. On tour to promote the release of his new book, “Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny,” Anthony will regale audiences with a nostalgic look back at the golden age of Rock ‘n Roll.

Also featured at the event will be a Beer and Wine Garden featuring New Mexico favorites from local breweries and vineyards, including Bosque Brewing, High Desert Brewing, and Amaro Winery.

"The drop will be solar-powered and there will be a harvesting theme [to the event]. We'll be celebrating harvesting the power of the sun, harvesting chile and harvesting tourism," Smith added.

The 15-foot tall chrome-steel chile will be hoisted 60 foot above the party in downtown Las Cruces. But Smith warns that voters’ choice of red or green lights to adorn the sculpture will remain a closely guarded secret until the midnight hour.

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