NM Christmas: Farolitos or Luminarias? | KOB 4

NM Christmas: Farolitos or Luminarias?

Tessa Mentus
December 12, 2017 10:26 PM

Editor's note: This is the first story in a series. For part two, click here. For part three, click here.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- They're a New Mexico holiday tradition as synonymous as Christmas trees. Some call them luminarias, others say they're farolitos.

So which term is the correct one? KOB went to find out to settle this beautiful yet age-old debate.

Damian Vergara Wilson teaches Spanish heritage at the University of New Mexico. He's got the best kind of experience on this topic.

"I come from a small town in northern New Mexico," he said. "I come from Ojo Caliente, and I have a lot of experience living the village life.

"The small bags are farolitos in the northern villages, as opposed to the little bonfires we would build on the night before Christmas. We call those luminarias."

Vergara Wilson said both farolitos and luminarias are really important in those tiny villages because of Las Posadas, the reenactments people perform of the night Jesus was born.

"When we perform the folk drama, not only do the luminarias and the farolitos kind of symbolize, you know, a beacon to come here ... they also have a very practical side too," he said. "They're warm.

"You need to be able to say, 'Hey, you make the luminarias. You go make the farolitos and that way people know what you're talking about."

Why does the distinction between the two get lost in some parts of New Mexico? Vergara Wilson has a theory.

Luminarias can be bonfires anywhere from 4 to 20 feet tall. There isn't as much open space in urban areas like Albuquerque for dozens of large bonfires. Vergara Wilson believes since many New Mexicans don't build real luminarias, they've just used that word to describe the pretty paper bags lining our towns.

Vergara Wilson said some may get a strange look calling a farolito a luminaria in Española, Dixon or Ojo Caliente; but he and many others say the tradition goes beyond a battle of words. It's much more than a paper bag filled with sand and a candle.

It's the feeling people get seeing them in their neighborhood or while making them with family. What they mean to New Mexicans is special.

It's part of their home, their culture, and that's not debatable.


Tessa Mentus

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