No matter your faith, or where you are from in the world, traditions around holidays are some of the most fun things to share with one another; it gives insight into who you are as a person and where you come from culturally, and geographically. Here, contributing writer and LiveEnglish with Livemocha teacher Miranda González, shares a holiday tradition from her home state.


by Miranda González

What do a brown-paper bag, a candle, and a handful of sand have in common?  They are all materials necessary to make a “luminaria”. In the U.S. state of New Mexico, luminarias are our most famous holiday tradition. The use of luminarias dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish settlers used little bonfires to show people the way to Midnight Mass, a special Christian religious service held at midnight on Christmas Eve, to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ. When U.S. settlers brought Chinese paper lanterns to New Mexico, New Mexicans began making cheaper versions with paper bags, which eventually replaced the small bonfires. In addition to lighting the way to the churches, people lined the paths to their homes so that the Christ child could find his way on Christmas Eve.

Nowadays, people from many different faiths participate in this festive tradition.  Many New Mexicans make their own luminarias at home, but since they are a lot of work for only one night, others choose to take a luminaria tour in Albuquerque’s Old Town Plaza.  You can go to Midnight Mass at the historic San Felipe de Neri Church (built in 1793), or you can just walk around and enjoy the lights.  While this tradition is uniquely New Mexican, anyone can make a luminaria.  So go get some paper bags and candles, and tell me how it goes!

How to make a Luminaria

Luminarias are economic paper lanterns that you can make by taking an ordinary paper sack (like the kind you would use to pack your lunch), folding down the edges, and filling it with about an inch of sand.  (You can use regular old dirt from your backyard, though die-hard luminaria fans suggest that you should at least rob the kids’ sandbox!)  Next, you place a votive candle inside each paper bag.  Then you use the bags to line the perimeters of your yard and driveway.  If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can create designs in your front yard using these luminarias.  Now you’re all set to light them on Christmas Eve.  They are quite a bit more work than simply stringing lights across your bushes, but they give off a special candlelit glow that takes you back to a time before mechanical deer and neon Santas took over our front yards.



What unique holiday traditions do you have where you live?

Share them in the comments below, or even better, participate in our Holiday Video Challenge and win a 6-month Gold Key. Go here for more details.


(Pictured to the left: Diwali celebrations also include lighting of candles/lamps, which is truly a lovely sight to see.)







About Miranda

Miranda is an English and Spanish teacher. Find her free English classes on Facebook every weekday at LiveEnglish with Livemocha.   She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she and her husband are raising two bilingual children.