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Annual farolito lighting and pinecone ceremony welcomes a new holiday season

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By Deborah Swearingen

With a fiery sunset blazing in the sky, dozens of farolitos flickered on, shining a light on the adobe walls of The Fort in Morrison and marking the beginning of another holiday season.

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Held annually on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the farolito lighting and pinecone ceremony serves as a kickoff to holiday festivities. The lights will illuminate The Fort throughout the holiday season.

“It’s an evening to celebrate and usher in the holiday season,” Brooke Traylor, director of the Tesoro Cultural Center, said.

But the evening also acts as a means of remembrance. It’s a way to honor those who cannot be here to celebrate.

After the paper lanterns light up, attendees line up in single file to toss a pinecone into the fire. Each pinecone contains a small slip of paper with a personal message to a loved one — someone who has died or someone who lives faraway.

As each pinecone hit the flame, a crackle of fire flew upwards toward the sky. Some paused in the reflective thought by the fire for a moment; others tossed a pinecone in with haste.

Last Sunday’s ceremony was equal parts “spiritual, religious and personal,” Traylor said.

The Tesoro Cultural Center, housed at The Fort, began in 1999 by Holly Arnold Kinney. She created the nonprofit organization with her father, Sam Arnold, with the intention of educating the public about life in Colorado in the 1830’s. Tesoro — meaning “treasure” in Spanish — aims to protect the historic and artistic treasures of the American past.

Prior to the pinecone ceremony, attendees gathered together in The Fort’s open-air courtyard for a short ceremony. After a performance by the Colorado School of Mines, the crowd joined together, singing Christmas carols from the early 18th century and the Bent’s Fort time period.

Significance of the event

Kinney, who grew up living at The Fort, welcomed the crowd. She shared the significance of the event and spoke of her father’s decision to begin the pinecone ceremony decades ago.

“It’s something that many people have been celebrating for years and years here,” she said. “And so we’re so delighted we’ve got so many new people coming.”

Each year, a person “who has enlightened the hearts and minds of others” is honored at the event. This year, the honoree was Steve Friesen, who among other things, served as the former director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Molly Brown House. Friesen was in charge of lighting the farolitos.

The Fort’s resident mountain man, who prefers to be called “Doc Grizzly,” was pleased to look out and see a crowd gathered at The Fort.

“I like that it’s brought this many people here to write a note and send out a wish,” he said.

Doc Grizzly wrote two separate wishes, one of which honored Kinney’s father.

“He didn’t know where the head of the table was,” Grizzly said fondly. “He sat alongside the rest of us.”