Whimsey Jars-A Collage

Whimsey Jars-A Collage

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Christmas Luminaries!

History of Luminarias

Holiday luminaries, or luminarias, are sand-filled paper bags with a votive candle or battery-operated tea light set inside. Luminarias line the streets and rooftops in the Southwest United States and throughout Mexico and Latin America during the nine days before Christmas, often through January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings. The lights show the way to the Inn for Mary and Joseph during Las Posadas. Holiday luminarias are also called farolitos, which means little lanterns.

According to the Albuquerque, New Mexico Convention and Visitors' Bureau, "Luminarias have not always been made out of paper bags, the early versions were actually small bonfires of crisscrossed piƱon branches which were built in 3-foot-high squares." The bonfires were lit to guide people to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and their difficulty finding lodging when they arrived. Children carry farolitos from house to house, accompanying "Mary" and "Joseph." They knock on doors, sing a song begging for food and shelter, and are turned away. At the last house of the evening, which is designated as La Posada, or the resting place, the children (and adults) are invited inside and served holiday tamales, biscochitos, posole and chili stews.


Holiday luminaries, or farolitos, can be made from small paper bags. Use white bakery bags for the most dramatic effect. The paper allows the glow of the candle inside to show. Colored bags are available in grocery stores, close to the plain brown paper lunch bags in the household products aisle. Fold the top two or three inches of the bag down. If desired, cut a Christmas tree, star, holly leaf or other Christmas shape into the side of the bag. This creates an interesting effect as the candle flickers inside. Fill the bag halfway with sand, then push the candle down into the sand about an inch. The sand keeps the bag from being blown over, and prevents the melting candle wax from accidentally setting the bag on fire.


The festival of Las Posadas originated when Catholic missionaries introduced the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus to the native people of Mexico and and Latin America. Because wood is often scarce in the Southwest, the practice of lighting signal bonfires was not sustainable. When Chinese immigrants brought their beautiful paper lanterns with them, locals began using them instead of lighting bonfires. The lanterns were expensive and the paper to make them was scarce, so people began using plain paper bags instead.


Cities such as Albuquerque, New Mexico have become famous for their holiday luminary displays. Neighborhoods and charities all over the country use the sale of holiday luminaria supplies as a fundraiser, often netting several thousand dollars a season. Displays of holiday luminarias several million dollars from tourism to many Southwest towns. This money is a vital resource for these communities.

Cleanup and Recycling

Unlike jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, there is little cleanup with luminarias. Remove the spent candle, which can sometimes be remelted and molded again. Pour the sand into a covered container with a tight lid to keep cats and other animals from fouling it between seasons. Fold the paper bags and store them if they are in good shape. If they are tattered or scorched they can be shredded and added to your home compost pile.

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How To Make Luminaries from Mason Jars

Christmas luminaries, used to light the way to holiday gatherings, are a popular tradition in the South. Traditionally constructed from a paper bag with a candle inside, luminaries pose the risk of fire if they're not watched carefully and are nearly impossible to use in areas with extreme weather conditions. These Mason jar luminaries reduce the risk of fire and are waterproof.

Difficulty: Easy
Instructions.Things You'll Need:

Mason jars
Votive candles
Hologram glass paint
Crushed glass

 1. Choose pint or quart-size Mason jars that are the same size and style. For the best results, all jars should be the same type of jar.

2. Paint designs on the outside of the Mason jars with hologram glass paint to add sparkle. Trace the outline of a star and fill in completely or dot with the glass paint. Dot fine lines around the jars to make or complete a design.

3. Fill the bottom third of the jars with crushed or cut glass. Create a colorful display by using colored glass to reflect the light, or stick to clear crystals to reflect natural light.

4. Wrap decorative ribbon around the mouths of the Mason jars and tie them into bows. Add luminescent balls or sprigs of evergreens by hot-gluing them in place.

5. Insert the votive candles into glass candle holders. Secure the holders in the luminaries by pushing the base of the holders into the crushed glass.

6. Arrange luminaries along the walkway to light the pathway to your home. Light candles before holiday gatherings to light the way for guests.

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