It’s a New Mexican tradition as recognizable as the Zia symbol: luminarias. Luminarias are a Christmas tradition which celebrates the birth of Christ by lighting candles or votives in a few cups of sand placed in an open paper bag. The candles serve as lanterns which light the way for the holy family to travel. 
The tradition began 300 hundred years ago on the banks of the Rio Grande. As time passed, the custom of making luminarias and placing them beside paths and walkways spread throughout the state. Albuquerque and Santa Fe have some of the most utterly breathtaking luminaria displays. Entire neighborhoods and public spaces decorate with the simple concept to create flickering contrasts between the dark and the light. Local organizations and clubs make luminarias for purchase to fundraise during the month of December. The fundraisers make the luminarias by assembly line in the hundreds if not thousands. 
In Southeast New Mexico, the tradition is less practiced; however, as you enjoy the Christmas light displays around the region you will see the humble brown bags dotted throughout neighborhoods put out to celebrate the season. The brown bags are prone to the blowing winds in SENM, so a number of folks choose to purchase or make electric versions of luminarias with plasticized versions of the paper bags set over a string of white or colored lights.
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