Traditional luminarias

Author: Canadian Living

Among the most beautiful sights of the Christmas season are streets and pathways lined with glowing luminarias.

This tradition dates back to 17th-century Spain, when townspeople lit bonfires along the town paths, symbolically lighting the way to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph. The tradition spread to Mexico and later to the American Southwest, where parades of worshipers walked firelit pathways to church on Christmas Eve. Eventually candles in weighted paper bags took the place of open fires, an idea that may have been inspired by traditional paper Chinese lanterns. In northern climates, luminarias are often fashioned by placing candles in blocks of ice or hollowed-out snowbanks, heightening the candles' glow. Many centuries after that first journey to Bethlehem, rows of flickering lights guide visitors all over the world and welcome them to holiday celebrations and worship services.

Try these Luminaria crafts:
Ice Luminarias
Paper Bag Luminarias


In cold-weather climates, ice luminarias add a warm glow to dark winter nights. To create this lighting effect, simply place a candle into a well in a large block of ice. Use ice luminarias to line driveways and walkways. Or add interest to a backyard view by clustering several on a patio or deck. Ice luminarias can be used as long as the temperature remains below the freezing point. Brush the snow off the candles periodically and spray the ice formation with water to return the ice to its clear state. For long-burning luminarias, use pillar candles.

• Plastic bucket, such as an empty one-gallon ice cream container
• Empty plastic peanut butter or mayonnaise jar
• Votive or pillar candle

1. Ice cream buckets: Centre jar in the bucket; place rocks in the jar to weight it. Fill the bucket with water, up to the rim of jar. Place the bucket outdoors or in the freezer until the water is frozen. Remove the rocks from the jar.

2. Pour warm water into jar to release it from ice; remove jar.

3. Wrap the bucket with warm, wet towel to release ice from bucket. Place candle into the well in the ice.

4. Deep buckets: Fill bucket partway with water; surface of water should be below rim of the bucket a distance greater than height of candle you will use for well in the ice. Freeze water. Complete luminaria, following steps 1 to 3, above, centering jar on top of ice in step 1.


• Mat board or piece of heavy cardboard; mat knife
• Dark-coloured paper bags
• Cookie cutters or stencils
• Light-colored paper bags
• Sand
• Votive candles

1. Cut piece of mat board or cardboard so it will fit inside paper bag. The board will protect your work surface and prevent you from cutting through both sides of the bag.

2. Trace designs or words on dark bag using cookie cutters or stencils as templates; trace with a pencil.

3. Insert mat board or cardboard into bag; cut designs out of bags with mat knife.

4. Remove mat board from bag. Insert light bag into dark bag, and unfold. Fill bottom of layered bags with sand; nestle candle in sand in bottom of bag.

5. Alternate method: Cut a paper doily slightly larger than cutout design on dark bag. (Edges should not be ragged, because their silhouette may show through bag.) Secure doily to inside of dark bag so that it is centered, using glue stick.


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Traditional luminarias