As the midnight hour approached, New Year’s Eve revelers poured into Plaza de Las Cruces downtown by the thousands, taking part in the city’s 10th annual chile drop — the first to draw CNN’s cameras as part of its nationwide New Year’s Eve coverage, wresting a brief spotlight for New Mexico’s second-largest city.
Before the announcement of the color selected by online voters, red or green, to light up the giant chile suspended from a crane over the plaza, emcee Jack Lutz introduced U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez (a former Las Cruces city councilor) and Mayor Eric Enriquez, who joined the stage with other guests and officials, such as Doña Ana County Manager Fernando Macias.
Last month, USA Today published a top-ten list of New Year’s Eve “drop” events, ranking Las Cruces’ in third place. (Boise, Idaho’s potato drop beat Las Cruces to second place, while the beach ball drop in Panama City Beach, Fla. took the crown, or sun visor, or whatever applies.)
The Memphis Band played its style of country rock for hours as people danced in front of the stage and jockeyed for decreasing space with four large El Paso Electric mascots in bulky costumes. Children swung at piñatas and dove for candy, or enjoyed the fairway set up in the plaza to offer carnival games, food trucks and refreshment stands. Main Street’s bars and the Grounded café were also busy as the temperature sank to 36 degrees by midnight.
Just as 2024 arrived to the mountain time zone, the announcement came that voters had selected green this year. (“Christmas” was not an option.) The chile was duly illuminated in bright green as the plaza cheered and exchanged kisses, hugs, high-fives and backslaps and began emptying out to go home or, perhaps, to find celebrations elsewhere. The Memphis Band played for another 20 minutes for those inclined to spend the first minutes of 2024 dancing.