Setting out luminarias, or "farolitos" as they are more commonly referred to in Spanish, on Christmas Eve is a beautiful long-standing tradition here in Carrollwood and many other neighborhoods around Tampa. Luminarias in Spanish translates to "festival lights" while farolitos translates to "little lanterns."
The traditional luminary consists of a small brown paper bag, a small candle and a little bit of sand to weigh down the bottom of the bag in case of wind, etc. When entire neighborhoods participate in the tradition, it makes for an elaborate and beautiful visual display...people will come from miles around to drive through our neighborhood and enjoy the experience.
The luminary tradition is very popular in the Southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Historically, the tradition started some time during 16th century as a Spanish tradition of lighting bonfires along roadsides and churchyards to help guide people to Midnight Mass on the final night of the celebration of "Las Posadas."
Las Posadas (a Spanish word that means lodging or inn) is a traditional festivity that European missionaries introduced to the indigenous people of Mexico to bring them the story of Mary and Joseph's quest for lodging in Bethlehem. The festive tradition of decorating rooftops, walls and sidewalks of individual homes continues today and signifies the guiding of night-time travelers to their destination.
The candlelit brown paper bag tradition began in the early 19th century. It is said that U.S. settlers along the Santa Fe Trail brought Chinese paper lanterns to hang from their portals and light their entryways. While they were beautiful, they were also expensive. So eventually, the brown paper bag version became the tradition.
The modern tradition is to set out the luminarias on Christmas Eve and light the candles just before it turns dark. Most people line their driveways and along the front of their lawn, setting the luminarias about 2 feet to 3 feet apart. If everyone in the neighborhood participates, every road, driveway and lawn will be illuminated on Christmas Eve. It is said that this visual spectacle in Carrollwood can be seen by airplanes flying overhead as they approach the Tampa airport!
I was born in San Antonio, Texas and grew up seeing the luminarias along the beautiful Riverwalk in San Antonio every Christmas. See San Antonio Luminiarias for a glimpse of what I remember seeing as a child.
You can buy your holiday luminarias at Groovy Cats & Dogs, 2305 W Linebaugh Ave, Tampa, FL 33612. Sets of 25 candles and brown paper bags for $6.00, sets of 10 for $3.00. You can also buy individual candles and brown paper bags. Call 813-265-1333 for more information.