Luminarias are an important part of New Mexico’s holiday season. For over 300 years–long before it became a state–the rich Spanish/Mexican heritage included luminarias a part of the local culture. Also called “farolitos,” or little lanterns, they are worth adding to your Christmas traditions.
Intended as a way to illuminate the path for the Christ child on Christmas Eve, welcoming him to the world–or to help Mary and Joseph find their way to Bethlehem–the first “lights” were made of wood…small bonfires made from stacks of piñon branches. But once the Spaniards discovered Chinese paper lanterns, everything changed. Instead of hanging the lanterns, they were placed on the ground; later they would also be put on stairs, rooftops, and in village squares.
The tradition of luminarias has spread from New Mexico
Luminarias have become popular in other parts of the country. Super! Many communities have adopted the simple paper-bag-and-candle concept for the holidays. Lovely, but not like the glorious and universal use of luminarias that’s seen in New Mexico. It’s everywhere, without a thought–and essential. Impossible to describe, yet it seems so natural and authentic. Perhaps….because it is. New Mexico embraces and celebrates its past, without a pause.
In New Mexico, buildings are topped with lines of luminarias. True enough, these days there are plastic bags and electric lights…safer and longer lasting. But when the holidays come, the real thing appears. Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza is beautifully lit for the nine days of Las Posadas, December 16-24, representing the nine months Jesus spent in the womb. On Christmas Eve, the luminarias lead worshippers to the historic San Felipe de Neri Church for mass.
Santa Fe goes all out on Christmas Eve. Canyon Road’s galleries and businesses sponsor the annual Farolito Walk, bringing over 30,000 people to stroll and become part of the tradition.
MAKE YOUR OWN LUMINARIAS!
Want to light your walkway? Not just for Christmas Eve, but to welcome guests for any occasion. Sure, you can buy fancy bags and kits online. Save money by getting what you need at local stores.
Make the most simple and traditional luminarias, use brown paper lunch bags:
- Fold each bag around the top, to make a 1-inch cuff.
- Fill each with a cup or two of sand and add a votive candle.
- For safety, use a flameless LED votive candle
- Place the bags on steady ground along pathways or driveways.
- If you use real candles, keep an eye on them.
More ideas and inspiration
You can also make re-usable luminarias with plastic milk jugs. Cut off the top and front to make room for the sand and candle. These are sturdy and good for windy weather. If you’re feeling extra creative, use permanent markers to draw holiday designs on the sides.
Large juice cans with holes punched in the sides make good luminarias, too. Probably not the best project for kids…it involves using a hammer and large nail to make the holes. They’re very pretty, but have rough edges and points.
Today luminarias are used for other celebrations. Parties, weddings, Halloween…they’re a beautiful way to welcome guests and to decorate. Start your own traditions this year!
More holiday posts from TravelSmart Woman: