Above: Create your own festival of lights at home. Illustration by Chris Philpot.
THEY'RE CALLED FAROLITOS UP NORTH and luminarias in the central and southern parts of the state, but a lineup of lunch-sack lanterns by any other name is a New Mexico Christmas tradition. Jeff Saiz, who runs Farolitos de Santa Fe, says his family business supplies around 12,000 candles nestled in sand-weighted paper bags to businesses, galleries, and private citizens every year. He shared a few tricks of the trade for setting up your own festival of lights.
Stockpile supplies. Saiz recommends skipping full-size paper lunch bags in favor of smaller sizes in brown or white. “They’re a little more dainty. You get more per yard, so they look cooler.” Look for long-burning tea-light candles, which last 8 to 16 hours and allow for two consecutive luminous nights, beginning on Christmas Eve. Sand should be kept dry and unfrozen until ready to go.
Scoop the sand, fold the bag. Fill bags with 2 to 3 cups of sand, enough to make a stable surface to shore up a candle. (Add more if it’s windy.) Saiz says you need only fold sacks down once, by around ¾ of an inch. Set up a farolito factory: one person on sand duty, another on candle placement.
Let there be light. Use a shallow cardboard box, the kind you find for free at nurseries and grocery stores, to transport multiple bags. Place luminarias two feet apart and far away from dry shrubbery or other fire hazards. Carefully lower a barbecue lighter into each one, then bask in the glow of the season.