Luminarias, a New Mexico Tradition


Old Town, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Image Courtesy of Albuquerque Tourism Department

I’ve always admired the luminaria displays during the Christmas Holidays. It’s been a New Mexico tradition for over 300 years, where Spanish villages along the Rio Grande would set out homemade paper lanterns on Christmas Eve. Their symbolic purpose was to light the way of the Christ child into the home by having them adorn walking paths, walls, and even the roof perimeters of the house.

The first luminarias took the form of wood piles made by stacking branches of the native pinon tree that were then set ablaze. When paper arrived into the region, the lantern became fashioned from a simple brown paper sack, a candle for illumination, and a small amount of soil to anchor the sack to the ground. Today’s luminarias still institute those traditional materials, but our modern era has also fabricated the iconic paper shape out of plastic that use light bulbs strung together with electric wiring.

Albuquerque citizens and tourists from around the globe, have made a pilgrimage of touring whole neighborhoods decorated with the glowing luminarias. During our recent morning walk, Chloe and I enjoyed the illumination given off by this group of luminarias bordering the sidewalk. By Christmas Eve, many more neighbors will be lining their particular section of the walk for a true New Mexico tradition.

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