What are Farolitos and Luminarias?
Christmas in the southwest is a beautiful time. As many areas have mild evening temperatures, outdoor celebrations have become holiday traditions. Lighting the way to a festive time in the southwest are luminarias or farolitos. Simply put, these are candles carefully placed in sand inside a bag, providing a warm glow at night.
In the Beginning, Bonfires Led the Way
These lights have their roots in the 1800's. Small bonfires, like the current day bonfires on the corners of Canyon Road in Santa Fe, were used to guide people to Christmas Mass. Quite often they were set out during the final night of Las Posadas, the symbolic representation of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem walking from home to home before Jesus was born.
In later days, children carried small farolitos as they reenacted Las Posadas.
How to Use Luminarias and Farolitos
Now people use luminarias or farolitos to decorate the path to their door as well as outlining the roofline of their home with these warm inviting lights. People in Albuquerque tend to call the paper bag lanterns, luminarias, but natives from Santa Fe insist the correct term is farolitos. Historically, a true luminaria is a series of small bonfires lining the roads. We use the terms interchangeably.
Make Your Own
Making luminarias, or farolitos, is fairly easy. Just purchase paper bags, votive candles and gather some sand. Crafty people will cut holiday shapes in the bags. Fill each bag with several inches of sand and press the votive candle in the center of the sand so that the flame does not touch the paper. The Ehow website has step by step instructions on how to measure for and place your luminarias. For the novice, I would recommend beginning with lining your walk way and skip the more dangerous positioning of Luminarias on your roof. I would also recommend choosing a dry night with very little wind. Luminarias will usually burn about 4 hours before going out. You'll probably be headed for bed about that time!
Places to See Grand Displays of Farolitos and Luminarias and Southwest Holiday Lights
Santa Fe's Canyon Road
Rio de Las Luces (River of Lights at Albuquerque's Botanic Garden.
Noches de las Luminarias - Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona.
Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico Luminaria Festival
Tlaquepaque Luminaria Festival - Sedona, Arizona
Luminaria Festival - Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico - Christmas eve there are luminaries placed throughout the valley which visitors can drive through to see.