What Is a Luminaria?
A luminaria is a candle in a paper bag. A luminaria is “A votive candle set into a small, decorative paper bag weighted with sand and placed in a row with others along a walkway, driveway, or rooftop as a holiday decoration” (from The Free Dictionary) in order to be more specific. That’s it. Sound simple? It is. Sound like something you and the kids could make? It is that too.
A Word about the Word
Two or more candles in bags are a set of luminarias.One candle in one bag is a luminaria. It’s like aria and arias. A luminaria is also known as a farolito in some cultures. It means the same thing.
How Would I Make a Luminaria?
To make the most basic luminaria, you need some small paper bags, some sand, and some candles. That’s it. But that’s only the beginning. You can also decorate the bags, for example.
The bags – You can use any small paper bags to make luminarias. If you don’t want to spend a lot on these very temporary lights, and you like a folk-art look, you can use plain brown Kraft paper lunch sacks.
Or you can buy bags that are especially made for Halloween luminarias. In between, you can buy plain orange paper bags and decorate them yourself. Or not.
You should be able to find the ordinary lunch bags in your regular grocery store. To find the ones especially made for Halloween, look in craft stores. Or just order them from online. Would you like Jack-o-Lanterns or witches and cats?
The plain orange bags are also available online, if you can’t find them nearby.
Just make sure the bags are paper. Burning a candle in a paper bag is risky enough. You really don’t want to try doing this with a cellophane bag.
The candles – This is where you need to be a bit careful. You don’t want to use ordinary table or emergency candles in your luminarias. What you really want are candles that are inside glass holders. Why? Because you want the light, but you want to protect the paper bag from the heat and flame.
The sand – You don’t have to use sand. All you really need is a material that won’t burn, that will give the bag enough weight to stay put, and that will hold a candle that’s set down into it. That could be some potting soil or topsoil, or just some dirt from your garden. It doesn’t matter.
Did you catch that the dictionary definition of a luminaria specified a votive candle? You don’t have to use those, but you should use them as your model. Even if you want to make your candles yourself, aim for a small pillar candle that will fit inside a glass holder. Inside, not just in.
Decorate the Bags
If you bought bags that are already decorated, you can skip this part. If you have plain, undecorated bags, though, you can make them special for Halloween. There are two ways to do this. One way is to draw on the bag. The other is to cut openings in the bag.
You can just draw scary images on the bags with a black marker. It’s easy and safe enough to do with the kids. All you’re looking for here is a good, filled-in drawing. It will be a silhouette, right?
To create a projection image, you can use a sharp knife to cut the pattern into the bag. Use a piece of tough plastic slipped into the bag as a cutting surface. Remember to keep the image high enough on the bag that the sand won’t spill out. And this project is for older kids and adults.
Putting It All Together
Open your bags and line them up somewhere. Pour a couple of inches of your sand or potting soil into each bag. Push a candle down into the center of the sand or potting soil. Set your luminarias aside until you’re ready to use them.