Annual Christmas Eve balloon glow honors lost loved ones

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Dozens of balloons and hundreds of luminarias are bringing light and warmth to the Arroyo del Oso Golf Course for the 34th annual Christmas Eve Balloon Glow.

“We are getting ready for our annual ADO Christmas Eve Balloon Glow, 34th year,” said Todd Kersting, director of golf at the Porto Del Sol Golf Course. 

Kersting started the tradition in the late 1980s with just a few hot air balloons and a luminaria display.

“Before he knew it, kinda like pour a little gasoline on a fire and it just started growing, and then now we fluctuate from 24 to sometimes 30. This year, we might have around 20,” said Kersting. 

Now, thousands come out to see the lights, spend time with loved ones, and to remember others who are no longer with us.

“Through the years we’ve had various tributes and memorials,” Kersting said. “It’s been always nice to help people who have lost somebody in their family come out and start their Christmas Eve.”

This year, Kersting says two recent losses hit especially close to home.

“My sister Amy, which is where we have the heart with the ‘A’ and Zito, which is the heart with the ‘Z.’ So it hits home because we lost her in February and Rosario Aug. 30,” said Kersting. 

He says the beloved owner of Giovanni’s Pizzeria, who was shot and killed earlier this year, was one of his good friends.

“He’d just say ‘Hey, how you doing?’ You know, and he’d be folding boxes, and he would just get to know the family and, and then the friends that would come in to, to break bread,” said Kersting. 

Zito and his family also used to help Kersting set up luminarias on the golf course for Christmas Eve.

“I’d be tired at night trying to light up the golf course. But hearing him talk just kind of kept that energy going. So yeah, yeah, we miss him,” said Kersting. 

He says Saturday night’s glowing “A” and “Z” will represent all loved ones lost this past year.

“Everybody’s different with how they go through the five stages of grief,” Kersting said. 

For Kersting, the lights bring in more than just community – they bring comfort.

“It’s a good, good way to start off your Christmas Eve,” he said.

Kersting says the balloonists were also collecting canned donations for a local food pantry.

“You want to have first responders that are there morning and night. You know, we go to bed at Christmas Eve, and I still see hear the fire trucks driving up and down Louisiana, where I live I mean. They don’t sleep they have to be ready to go, and so a lot of respect for the red, white and blue,” said Kersting.