How to Make Luminarias | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Make Luminarias

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Creating Traditional Paper Lanterns for the Holidays

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Brighten the night! Here’s how to make luminarias in 3 steps. Luminarias are twinkling paper lanterns that add a festive touch for Halloween, Christmas, or a party—especially during the darker nights of late autumn and winter.

What Are Luminarias?

Traditionally, luminarias were used by the Spanish around Christmastime; they lit the way for the Christ child, welcoming Him to the world. Hundreds of years ago, luminarias were small bonfires of crisscrossed piñon branches which were built in three-foot high squares. After the Spanish explorers discovered the paper lanterns of the Chinese, the paper bag approach was adopted.


Today, luminarias are still popular in New Mexico and the Southwest—and we’re seeing them pop up elsewhere, too! They have a certain glowing magical quality about them, don’t you think?


Simple Luminarias in 3 Steps

Make the most simple, traditional luminarias with brown or white paper lunch bags.

  1. Fold each bag at the top, then fill each with a couple of cups of sand.
  2. Add a votive candle! For safety, many folks now use a flameless LED votive candle or solar-powered light.
  3. Place the bags on steady ground along pathways.

If you use real candles, be extra vigilant, especially if there isn’t snow on the ground.


Reusable Luminarias

  • Collect large metal juice cans.
  • Punch holes in the sides of the cans using a nail or hole puncher.
  • If you’re handy, you can punch out designs such as stars.
  • Next, paint the cans with flat black paint. (Spray paint makes this easy, but use cautiously with small children around.)
  • After the paint dries, pour 2 inches of sand into the bottom of each can. Settle a votive candle into the sand and light.


The Magic of Candles

Here are other ways to bring candle light into your home.

  • Float tea lights in shallow bowls of water along with some flower petals.
  • Use small terra-cotta pots as candleholders. Paint them with craft or fabric paint and add a votive candle or tea light.
  • To make any candle a scented candle, add a drop of essential oil to the melting wax just next to the wick. Consider cinnamon, frankincense, myrrh, pine, or bay for traditional holiday fragrances.

2023 Almanac Club