Christmas in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a beautiful time. With mild evening temperatures, outdoor celebrations have become holiday tradition! Lighting the way to a festive month in December -especially on Christmas Eve- luminarias or farolitos are found prominently on top of adobe buildings, lining quiet streets, and ushering friends to welcoming homes and businesses along walkways and doorsteps. So what are Farolitos? Luminarias? Simply put, these are” candles of light” which symbolize the way for the Christmas family to find warmth, comfort, and protection. These “candles of light” are carefully placed in sand inside a small brown paper bag, providing a warm glow at night. Generally found in prominence beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving at lighting of the Christmas trees on the historic Santa Fe plaza and enjoyed throughout December. Santa Fe infamous “glow of luminarias” throughout downtown, the historic plaza and surrounding neighborhood areas is truly a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience. Nighttime strolls in downtown Santa Fe are especially enchanting on Christmas eve when Canyon Road is lined with luminarias and spotted with farolitos (little bon fires) to provide warmth. Canyon road on Christmas eve creates lifelong memories for Santa Fe travelers as this famous holiday walk inspires carolers, hot chocolate vendors, good cheer, and warm greetings from friend and foe alike. Luminarias, lighting the way for Christmas strollers line the street, walls, and illuminate windows as well as walkways greeting guests, family and friends. A truly magical holiday community festival for all to enjoy is easy walking distance for guests of Pueblo Bonito b&b.
In the Beginning, Bonfires Led the Way
These little lights have their roots in the 1800’s. Small bonfires, like the current day bonfires on the corners of Canyon Road in Santa Fe (Farolitos), were used to guide people to Christmas Mass. Quite often they were set out during the final night of Las Posadas, the symbolic representation of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem walking from home to home before Jesus was born (replicated current day on the 2nd Sunday in December). In later days, children carried small farolitos as they reenacted Las Posadas with current “little lights” hung on trees in the plaza.
Use of Luminarias
Now a days people use luminarias to decorate the path to their door as well as outlining the roofline of their home with warm inviting electric luminaria lights. Historically, luminarias were a series of small bonfires lining the roads. As customs evolved from small bonfires to small paper bag lights, terminology has evolved as well and confusion as to what exactly a luminaria vs. farolito is. Farolito meaning small fire where as luminaria means small light. These two terms are now used interchangeably to describe the small paper bag lights that create a luminous wonderland in Santa Fe during December holiday season. Farolitos are much more risky as they are open fires vs. the small bagged light which are replicated for further safety by using small electric lights inside paper bags as can often be seen.
Making Your Own
Making luminarias, or farolitos, is fairly easy. Just purchase paper bags, votive candles and gather sand (dry). Crafty people may cut holiday shapes in the bags or textures on the top rim. Fill each bag with several inches of sand, then press a votive candle in the center of the sand so the flame does not touch the paper sides. We recommend lining your walk way and skip the more dangerous positioning of luminarias on your rooftop . Choose a dry night with very little wind so to prevent accidental ignition of bags. Luminarias usually burn about 4 hours before going out. You’ll probably be headed for bed about that time! So decorate, invite your friends and enjoy the ambiance and enchantment of true Santa Fe Christmas by bringing New Mexico traditions to your holiday decorating.