While the holiday season brings many people joy, it’s a stressful time for those mourning the loss of loved ones. But families can keep precious memories alive and celebrate with Christmas Eve luminaria.
Here in the American Southwest, there’s a tradition of visiting the graves of loved ones on Christmas Eve. In Catholic cemeteries, the night of December 24 is the busiest time of the year for visitors, rivaling even Memorial Day.
Graves are decorated with lights of varying types. The most simple and beautiful lights are created by lunch sack-sized paper bags with sand weighting the bottom and anchoring a single votive candle. When hundreds of graves are lined with thousands of luminarias, the result is a peaceful, glowing field of love.
After visiting the cemetery and remembering loved ones no longer here on earth, favorite foods to feast upon at home include tamales, posole, biscochitos, and red or green chile (in New Mexico, we spell it chile, not chili). Some people will even bring food to the cemetery to eat and drink while visiting loved ones’ graves.
Catholic cemeteries in other parts of the country may not experience the kind of traffic that Southwestern Hispanic families bring on Christmas Eve. If setting up a display in your local cemetery would cause an issue in your area of the country, bring this celebration home. Consider adding a luminaria display in your yard to honor and remember loved ones who have died.
However you celebrate, wishing you and yours a warm and loving holiday.
From an earlier Christmas Eve cemetery visit, here’s an example of one family that pulled out all the stops with their decorations – a small tree, an illuminated snowman and recorded music.
Here’s a video that shows the scope of the luminaria display in the Mount Calvary Cemetery in Albuquerque, NM. The poem recited is “Winter Solstice” by Isaac C. Eastvold, copyright 2009, used with permission.