Texas Living

Make Holiday Magic With Luminarias

By Peter Simek 12.4.18

Texas is sort of famous for its holiday lights. This year, up your game with homemade luminarias — a special, centuries-old twist on traditional holiday lights born out of the particular history of the Southwest.

Holiday Magic

Luminarias, made by weighting a paper bag with sand and lighting it from within with a small votive candle, emit an evocative, mysterious glow. The tiny lanterns are so easy to make, dozens can be amassed and sprinkled down paths or thrown together in sparkling displays. Around the holidays, luminarias line walkways, outline the facades of churches and homes, and can take the shape of religious symbols or spiraling, dazzling expressions of luminous joy.

Make Holiday Magic With Luminarias

16th-Century Tradition

As far back as the 1500s, Spanish colonists celebrating Christmas in Santa Fe lit the way to the church on Christmas Eve by lighting small bonfires. It was part of the tradition of the posada, a reenactment of a biblical story about Mary and Joseph journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

In the 19th century, Spanish merchants began bringing paper lanterns to the United States and creating luminarias to light the way for the posada, also signifying the mythical journey of the spirit of Jesus that many Mexican Christians believe travels to the homes of young children on Christmas Eve each year.

But the tradition of luminarias really took shape when flat-bottomed brown paper bags were manufactured in 1872. They made their way all the way out of the Santa Fe Trail and are now an indispensable part of this Southwestern holiday tradition.

Make Holiday Magic With Luminarias

Make Your Own

Luminarias couldn’t be easier to make. All you need is a paper bag, sand, and a votive candle. The most fun part is customizing them with your own designs.

  • Cut out holiday-themed paper shapes and glue them to the side of the bag. When you light the candle, the darkened outline of a tree or star will take shape against the glow of the bag.
  • You can also cut shapes into the bag to create the effect of glowing designs.
  • Open your paper bag and pour about an inch and a half of sand into the flat bottom.
  • Set a candle into the sand. Worried about an open flame? A battery-operated candle is a fire-safe option.
  • Make as many as you need to light up your walkways and brighten your home or yard with a little seasonal glow.

Can’t get enough of the holidays? Try our Christmas cookies, marshmallows, and twists on hot cocoa; or learn how to prepare your home for the arrival of party guests

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