A lovely Christmas tradition in New Mexico is the use of farolitos. Instead of a Christmas tree, farolitos, or “little lanterns,” are lit to usher in the holiday season. These paper bags filled with sand and a candle are place along walks, around porches or on the roof lines of a building, shining a cheery yellow light into the chilly night.
Many people mistakenly call farolitos “luminarias.” In fact, luminarias are stacks of pitch pine, piled in a crossed pattern, and then lit to make a bright bonfire. The Moors in Spain were igniting luminarias long before the Christian religion arrived there. As a very long-lived Spanish tradition, they’ve also happily been adopted as part of the Christmas traditions of the Southwest.
The tradition of lighting farolitos is believed to have originated later on from 18th century Spanish merchants who were inspired by Chinese paper lanterns. Tesoro Cultural Center brings this tradition to the grounds of The Fort Restaurant every year with its annual Farolito Lighting & Pinecone Ceremony. Dozens of farolitos line our famous adobe walls as we enter the holiday season, making for a festive welcome to our home in Red Rocks country!
To make your own farolitos, fill small brown paper bags with sand, folding down the tops of the bags about two inches to stabilize them. Then, insert a long-burning candle into each bag and place the farolitos in a visible location for passersby to enjoy!
(Excerpted from Sam Arnold’s “Frying Pans West.”)