In the Southwest, many places are lit up with farolitos. The word luminaria is more commonly used even though the correct word is farolito (Spanish for “little light”) – technically, a luminaria is a bonfire. However, as is the common practice, I will use them interchangeably.
Farolitos are made from brown paper bags weighted down with sand and illuminated from within by a lit candle, and traditionally displayed on Christmas Eve. They have several uses: symbolically they serve to light the way for Joseph and Mary to find lodging and to guide the spirit of the Christ child. In a utilitarian way, they help light the way to Mass. Perhaps most appealing to young children, they are said to help guide Santa Claus to your chimney.
They are easy to make:
You will need a package of paper lunch bags, sand, tea light candles, and lighters. Any number of bags will work, but the typical placement is to space them from six inches to two feet apart. You can also use small plant pots.
Add enough sand to weigh down the bags (approximately 2 cups per bag). Insert a candle in the center of the sand, and light it after dark.
(If desired, prior to filling the bags, you can perforate them with designs that will be illuminated by pinpricks of light. Use a push pin or thumb tack for tiny holes.)
Stand back and get ready to say “Oooo” and “Ahhhh.”
Note: Artificial luminaries can be purchased if safety is a concern. They are made of plastic and use light bulbs instead of candles.