History of Luminarias

Luminarias, a Southwestern tradition since the 19th century

Luminaries are sometimes called farolitos (the Spanish word for little lanterns) and are now used around the world and on every occasion, not just for Christmas, but also to illuminate patios and walkways during celebrations.

The tradition of Christmas luminaries has a long and varied history as part of religious tradition. Luminarias (Spanish for “small bonfires”) were first recorded in the 16th century, when Spanish people lit bonfires along the roads to guide people to Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas. This was done to reenact the story of Mary and Joseph’s quest for lodging in Bethlehem. This tradition was brought to the Santa Fe Trail in the early 19th century, when settlers lit their entranceways with beautiful Chinese paper lanterns. This tradition was introduced to Mexican Indians by Spanish missionaries, who lit paper lanterns for nine consecutive nights beginning December 16th. It was representational of lighting the way for Christ’s birth and illumination of the spirit.

The modern tradition has evolved into Christmas luminaries decorating sidewalks, driveways, rooftops and windows as a way to guide travelers to their holiday destinations. In every case, luminaria has become a tradition of welcome, and Christmas luminaries have become a tradition of holiday welcome.

The more common versions of luminarias are made of paper bags, sand and wax candles. This tradition and popularity has given LumaBase the inspiration to create a variety of designs with weatherproof materials and lighting options such as battery powered, electric plug-in and solar.