Southwestern Luminaria Tradition: Decorate with Luminarias to Add Flair to Any Celebration!

What are luminarias ? A luminaria is a small paper lantern, commonly a candle set in some sand inside a paper bag. Placing candles or tea lights in a succession of small paper bags is a common tradition in Hispanic communities during Christmas, particularly in the American Southwest. The New Mexican tradition, which dates back more than 300 years, continues today with safe candle-free luminarias. Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque, New Mexico, holds an annual Luminaria Tour, in which thousands of paper lanterns light the plaza walkways. The terms “luminaria” or “farolito” are used interchangeably; in Santa Fe, the lanterns are generally referred to as “farolitos,” while people in Albuquerque tend to call them “luminarias.” People light strings of modern luminarias on curbs, roadways and roofs, creating rivers of light, or “rios de luces.” The electric version of the traditional luminaria creates a rich, picturesque glow along roads and buildings all over the Southwest. In the 1800s, people commemorated the birth of Christ with small bonfire luminarias along the sides of roads. This type of luminaria was used to guide people to Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas, a nine-day Christmas celebration. Las Posadas, “the inns,” was first introduced to the Mexican Indians by European missionaries reenacting the story of Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. During the celebration, groups of carolers walk from house to house, each holding a luminaria. Years later, people replaced the traditional bonfire luminarias with small paper bags filled with sand and a small candle as a safer alternative. Children in the Southwest carry these luminarias, reenacting the night of Las Posadas. Today, luminarias are used to line walkways, driveways and rooftops. It’s common to see whole neighborhoods decorated with luminarias. Today, you can decorate your own home or neighborhood for the holidays, or any nighttime celebration. Keep the Southwestern luminaria tradition alive during the rest of the year by decorating your driveway, walkways, or the ground underneath trees with rows of luminarias. Tea lights require daily maintenance, but electric luminarias are safe, easy and inexpensive—there’s no need to blow candles out at the end of the night, or check the amount of wax in each luminaria. You can make them at home, but it’s easy to order luminaria kits, candles, bags or lights online all at once. Set up luminarias for Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, graduations, neighborhood events and more!

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