Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas in New Mexico

Christmas time once again and New Mexicans are continuing the age old tradition of lining their homes and driveways with Luminaries. New Mexico is a state with annual wind speeds around eight miles per hour capable of exceeding thirty during the winter. We see an average snow fall of six feet with temperature shifts of about fifty degrees between day and night to melt the snow. So one may question why New Mexicans continue the Christmas tradition of filling small lunch bags with sand and a votive candle as a form of decoration. If you’re like me, an explanation is well overdue.

Originally the Luminaries were ignited as huge bonfires initiating the holiday season and were accompanied by smaller individual bonfires lit as a way of inviting Christ into ones home, this beautiful tradition also served to help reduce the amount of nearby flammable material and was followed by the post holiday tradition of rebuilding cindered homes and extinguishing the Bosque.

This tradition began to loose popularity along with the concept of placing lit candles upon Christmas trees to create a festive glow called arson when New Mexican were unable to afford the cost of increasing insurance along side natural gas prices during the holidays.

The tradition then changed to filling lunch sacks with sand and placing within a small votive candle. These sacks were then placed upon the house and driveway with little fear of fire because they were quickly extinguished by wind and slush and continuously supervised by the individual responsible for the now traditional “ hourly re-lighting” ceremony.

This tradition continued for another hundred years when New Mexican ingenuity again kicked in with the latest development of electric luminaries. These evolutionary marvels managed to provide unwavering electrical light supported within a plastic frame and covered with a plastic “lunch bag” look alike. However, this use of modern technology also serves to greatly reduce the cumbersome weight of the luminaries and requires that these decorations be nailed in place or stuck down with silicon caulking.

With this latest chapter in New Mexican decorations comes the new holiday tradition of retrieving your plastic bags from the neighbor’s yard and “re” re-sticking your plastic frames to your adobe roof. So to all New Mexicans out there rebuilding their home or restuccoing the holes you nailed into your adobe, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.


  1. Thanks for a delightful post, Donna.

    You said: So one may question why New Mexicans continue the Christmas tradition of filling small lunch bags with sand and a votive candle as a form of decoration.

    Our tradition must sound a bit odd to some of the more easterly parts of our country, so thanks for explaining the history and evolution of New Mexico holiday luminarias. When I moved here from Michigan many moons ago, this--and the smell of burning juniper--became two of my favorite December things. :)

  2. How true! But they are beautiful at night.

    Thanks for the fun post, Donna. I'm off to watch my neighbors nailing up their luminarias!