Here in the American Southwest, there’s a tradition of visiting the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve. For many New Mexico cemeteries, the night of December 24 is the busiest time of the year for visitors, rivaling even Memorial Day. This tradition is especially popular in Catholic cemeteries.
Graves are decorated with lights of varying types. The most simple and beautiful lights are luminarias. These are created with lunch sack-sized paper bags that have an inch or so of sand on the bottom. The sand give weight to the bag and anchors a single votive candle. When hundreds of graves are lined with thousands of luminarias, the result is a peaceful, glowing field of love.
If you drive north from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, once you climb La Bajada (The Hill), the name for this simple holiday light display changes. In northern New Mexico, luminarias are called farolitos. Read more about the history in this New Mexico Magazine story by Kate Nelson.
In this video, Certified Thanatologist Gail Rubin introduces you to the New Mexico tradition of Christmas Eve luminarias and cemetery visits. Consider adopting this tradition for your own family, wherever you live!
Gail Rubin is a death educator who uses humor and funny films to teach about end-of-life issues. She’s a speaker, author, blogger, and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival. Her latest book is KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die.