Christmas Luminarias or Farolitos

In the Southwest, many places are lit up during the Christmas season 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.

Taos Pueblo with luminarias

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.

Luminarias at The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Luminarias at The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Merry Christmas!!


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22 Responses to Christmas Luminarias or Farolitos

  1. JoAnn says:

    How beautiful! Have heard about the farolitos in Santa Fe from my brother-in-law and his family… would love to be there around the holidays and see them. Merry Christmas!

  2. Julie P. says:

    Our church used to have luminaries surrounding it on Christmas Eve. Very beautiful!

  3. Jovenus says:

    It’s so beautiful! you don’t need to have white Christmas to make it feel any less christmasy…

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you !!

  4. Sandy says:

    I love luminaries! Various kids’ groups sell them in the neighborhoods in Florida and it is just awesome when they are all lit up on Christmas Eve. I guess I never knew the story behind it though.

  5. Marie says:

    OMG, that is so beautiful!! thank you for sharing that with us! I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas!!

  6. bermudaonion says:

    One of our old neighborhoods used to do this every Christmas. It was so much fun!

  7. softdrink says:

    I know have a mental image of a bunch of bonfires being lit. I never knew that farolito was the correct term!

    Merry Christmas! May Santa bring you lots of books. And no celery.

  8. ds says:

    Beautiful! Thank you for explaining the difference between luminaria and farolito; will try to remember farolito.

    Merry Christmas, and happy reading!!

  9. They are so beautiful! Thanks for sharing this with us and Merry Christmas!

  10. Your pictures are beautiful. I’d love to see the botanical garden display some day. When our two oldest were going to college in Santa Fe, New Mexico we spent part of Christmas there one year. The whole town seemed to be filled with the luminaries. It was overwhelming and the first time I saw them. It’s a beautiful tradition.

    Sorry to hear Tucson is so cold. I’m sure all the snowbirds are mad. I hope you manage to stay warm. Happy a very happy Christmas.

  11. Cathy says:

    Our neighborhood always has a night of farolitos during the holidays. I always look forward to it.

  12. susan says:

    I’ve seen these before. Didn’t know the significance of them. Thanks for the lesson. They are beautiful.

  13. J. Kaye says:

    Oh how I love these! Merry Christmas! 🙂

  14. Alyce says:

    Those are beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Esme says:

    These are so beautiful. Merry Christmas.

  16. Lisa says:

    My church puts these out on Christmas Eve and it does make the church so beautiful!

  17. Anna says:

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the meaning of them. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas!

  18. I live in the quintessential New England village and on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve the streets aglow with the bright light from hundreds of luminaries.
    Thanks for this awesome post.

    Happy Holidays..and Merry Christmas to you.
    I hope you have a great holiday. Wishing you all the best….Wisteria

  19. Staci says:

    Those are absolutely gorgeous and I did ooh and aah!!

  20. Jenners says:

    I love love love luminarias … they create such a magical and wonderful feeling. Though Mr. Jenners is WAY too paranoid to have real candles.

  21. sagustocox says:

    Those are neat! They use those over by the Antietam Battlefield once per year on the battle’s anniversary!

  22. jewell says:

    these are so beautiful, we live to far in the north to practice this tradition, they would get blown over in the snow and wind, hope to see them some day in the southern new mexico climate.The pictures are awesome.

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