Luminarias Print
Written by Jennifer K Mahal   

It’s October. The nights grow long and dark. This is the season of darkness and flickering lights. In ancient times, bonfires would be built on October 31 to celebrate the Celtic holiday Samhain, a day when it was believed the ghosts of the dead visited the living. Halloween, our modern holiday, has its roots in this tradition.

Nowadays, when you go trick-or-treating, you may see a path of jack-o-lanterns, with candles flickering through their wide grins. Or a line of paper bag luminarias, lighting your way.

Luminarias, paper bag lanterns weighted down with sand and decorated with pinpricks or cutouts, are actually a Christmas holiday tradition in Mexico and the Southwest. They are sometimes arranged in elaborate designs, a lantern version of holiday lights.

They are said to originate from Spanish merchants who saw paper lanterns created by the Chinese. The merchants decided to create their own lanterns when they returned to “New Spain,” now known as Mexico.

Paper lanterns have been used in China since before the First Century. The Chinese used them both for lamps and for decoration and holidays.

The tradition of paper lamps migrated across Asia, including to Japan, where during the Toro Nagashi festival, people float paper lanterns down a river to remember their ancestors. As a side note, the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, is on October 19. In my family, we would float little lamps down the river in remembrance of those no longer with us.

In modern times, luminarias can be seen at parties and at Halloween as well as at Christmas. You can make your own luminarias with just a few items.

To make a luminaria, you will need the following:

* A Paper Bag

* Scissors

* A Pencil

* A Pushpin

* A Piece of Cardboard

* Masking or Painter’s Tape

* Sand or Rocks

* A Battery-operated Tea Light

 Cut two inches off the top of your bag. This will help make the bag sturdier. Draw a simple design on the paper bag — a heart, a star, a jack-o-lantern face. Simple designs will show up the best. Tape the paper bag gently to a piece of cardboard. Carefully use the pushpin to poke holes along the design. Open the bag. Put sand or small rocks in the bottom to weigh the lantern down. Put in the battery-operated tea light and enjoy how the light shines through the pinholes. Make a whole set of them and line your walkway for your next party or Halloween.

Discover more science and art at the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery in the Capitola Mall. Learn more at


Jennifer K Mahal, who writes children’s books under the name Jenni Kaye, is a volunteer with the Santa Cruz Children’s Museum of Discovery. She lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and two children.

Last Updated on Friday, 01 December 2017 01:49