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What Are Luminarias?

The glowing brown sacks that adorn Albuquerque walkways, churches and homes each holiday season are called luminarias and date back more than 300 years. The New Mexican tradition began when the Spanish villages along the Rio Grande displayed the unique and easy to make Christmas lanterns, called luminarias to welcome the Christ child into the world. A traditional luminaria is a brown paper bag, which has been folded at the top, filled will a couple cups of sand and a votive candle.

Albuquerque's Luminaria Tour

If you visit Albuquerque in December, you'll experience the Old Town Plaza's annual Luminaria Tour where hundreds of people walk into the cool night and wander through the golden glow of more than a thousand twinkling paper lanterns. There is also an annual Luminaria Bus Tour each year on Christmas Eve.

To explore other holiday traditions in Albuquerque, visit our Winter Holiday page


The History of Luminarias

Luminarias have not always been made out of paper bags, the early versions were actually small bonfires of crisscrossed piñon branches which were built in three-foot high squares. When colored paper was brought over from Asia years later, luminarias became what they are today. Instead of making lanterns that would hang in a tree or from a roof, which would become damaged by the wind, small bags were made and placed on the ground, rooftops and along pathways.

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Image Credit: New Mexico Tourism Department