Lighting Up Santa Fe at Christmas

Farolitos, the small paper bag lanterns that dot the landscape and their electronic counterparts on public buildings magically appear in December throughout the city. It’s hard to believe but the tradition of the farolito did not occur during the Spanish Colonial era. The first square-bottomed bag was patented by Luther Childs Crowell of Boston, Mass., on Feb. 20,1872. Since paper bags were largely of mid- and late-19th Century inventions, the bag lanterns became a Christmas tradition much later. However, their popularity has become a ubiquitous holiday favorite around the state. Farolito means little lantern in Spanish.

A Family Tradition

Another holiday tradition that has grown in recent decades is the decorating of gravesites on Christmas Eve. New Mexico families gather to spend time with their deceased loved ones at the cemetery. The preparation for the celebration begins in the late afternoon by lining the graves with the small paper sacks filled with sand and candles. The farolitos are lit during the evening celebration welcoming the birth of the Christ child. Christmas ornaments and candy canes adorn the graves. During the Christmas Eve celebration families sing or play recorded versions of religious songs, as well as Christmas tunes and the Spanish song, Las Mañanitas, the traditional birthday song.

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