Filling 400 white paper bags with sand and candles for the Arboretum’s upcoming ‘Tis the Season celebration is mind-numbing work, even with help from staff and volunteers. Fortunately, such repetitive tasks give one time to ponder the deeper questions of life, such as who first dreamed up the crazy idea of lighting candles in paper bags.
According to that font of knowledge known as Wikipedia, the term luminaria originally referred to a small bonfire used in New Mexico during Las Posadas, the nine-day celebration that culminates on Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena. A new luminaria was lit each night of Las Posadas, so that by the ninth night, nine small fires led to the home. Luminarias were built of pinon branches “laid to form a box so that the fire will cast the most light and heat with the least flame.” To many in New Mexico, the smell of pinon is forever associated with Christmas.
Nowadays, farolitos have to some extent replaced the traditional pinon fires. Farolitos, translated as “little lantern,” are the paper lanterns often confused with luminarias. Santa Fe and Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico, are known for their impressive farolito displays. For impressive farolitos closer to home, visit Adkins Arboretum’s ‘Tis the Season celebration on December 8 for an evening of music, stargazing, and candlelit caroling.