26 December 2007

The Lights of Christmas



A recent blog I read gave me a chuckle.

Here in New Mexico we have a tradtion that is centuries old. The lining of churches, driveways and business with 'little lights' called luminarias or as in northern New Mexico they are called 'farolitos'.

I have written about them in past posts including recently when I went to the River of Lights. The tradition has spread across the country and has reached a point where 'eastern' states are calling them 'their tradition'. ....snicker snicker....

In the Southwest, the terms “LUMINARIAS and FAROLITOS” have come to be used almost interchangeably.


In the 1800’s luminarias were small bonfires built along the roadside to commemorate Christ’s birth. They were used to guide people to Midnight Mass on the final night of LAS POSADAS, “lodging or inn”.

Later people used farolitos, small paper bags with sand in the bottom and a small candle inside to light the bag. This was a substitute for the more dangerous bonfires. Children in the southwest, reenacting the night of Las Posadas often carried the farolitos in their hands. Today they are used to line walkways, driveways and roof tops.


The night of Las Posadas is a festive celebration first introduced to the Mexican Indians by European missionaries reenacting the story of Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging in Bethlehem in a series of NOVENA, “nine days”, beginning December 16th.


Each night a group of carolers would go from house to house, carrying small lanterns made of a paper bag with a lit candle inside (farolitos). The carolers would sing a song pleading for food and shelter. Some homes would turn them away, but others would invite them in and offer food – posole, red and green chili stews, Christmas Eve tamales, biscoshitos, etc.


The tradition of luminarias and farolitos originated in Mexico, then celebrated in New Mexico for many years before spreading across the United States, Canada and Europe.
Here in the southwest, many of our homes have flat roofs. We place the luminarias along the outlines of our roofs. We also use them to light driveways, walkways and to outline different sections of our yards. Across the country you will see them used much the way that traditional outdoor lights are used. Just connect them in series and show off the sections of your lawn, sidewalks and driveways in traditional Southwest flare.



So, if you really want to see a great light show, come to Albuquerque or Santa Fe for Christmas Eve. There are caravans of cars driving around the more decorated parts of town and there are even tour buses [which always sell out!!]. Enjoy the lights, enjoy the food, enjoy the tradition that is New Mexico.

1 comment:

jon berry said...

fyi, luminaries originated in the Orient. the "Eastern states" have used them as tradition for more than 400 years, but I'm sure their adoption there filtered from European settlers who adopted them from the Orient, much like is likely in Latin American cultures.