The luminaria display on Christmas Eve is perhaps Tularosa’s best-known treasure. This one-night-only display of light, love and tradition is one of the best parts of the holiday season in the Tularosa Basin.
This year there is an air of heightened anticipation for two reasons. In 2019, the display was rained out just moments after the last luminaria was set out and volunteers had just begun the lighting phase. While there was much debate among residents of the village about the actual timeline no official determination has been made on the last time the display did not get lit due to weather, but it is rare for that to happen.
Additionally, it is one of the few holiday events that families will not have to forego due to COVID-19 restrictions. The presentation of luminarias throughout the village is intended to be viewed from your vehicle and there are no in-person events scheduled.
If you have never been, thousands of luminarias are displayed throughout the Village of Tularosa. A luminaria is a candle carefully set in sand inside of a paper bag. They are arranged throughout the entire village and then lit at dusk.
There are sometimes conflicting opinions about the correct use of the term “luminaria.” Most of us refer to the paper bag lantern in this way, but some traditionalists insist the correct term is “farolitos.” Historically, a true luminaria is a series of small bonfires lining the road. Originally, small bonfires were used to guide people to Christmas mass. Often, they are associated with the final night of Las Posadas, which is the symbolic representation of when Mary and Joseph were seeking shelter in Bethlehem, walking from home to home for a place to rest.
The Tularosa Arts and History Council (TAHC) was asked by the Village to ‘take over’ the project starting in 2017. Expenses are covered through a financial commitment from the TAHC, donations from an ongoing Tularosa Chamber of Commerce fund and generous sponsorships from the community. Additional fundraising for the project also comes from sales of luminaria kits to the community. Each kit includes a sack and a candle for .25 cents and are generally sold in bundles of 25, 50, 100 or 200. Sales this year will be done out of The Merc located at 316 Granado Street.
High School students, 4-H members, FFA participants, and Rotary Club of Tularosa volunteers, along with other volunteer community members and Village employees are all involved in the set up. Volunteers start around 9 a.m. on Christmas Eve day filling sacks with dirt, and then loading them up on flatbed trailers. The trailers drive carefully around town setting the sacks along Highway 54/St. Francis Drive and east toward Ruidoso. Then a special long-burning candle is pushed into the sand in each sack.
Businesses and residents throughout the village also do their part by lining them on their rooftops, driveways and storefronts. Close to dusk, more volunteers are needed to light the candles. All this work takes dedication and determination. It is laborious and tiring, but to the residents and to the visitors, it is worth the effort.
For information about the luminaria display or the Tularosa Arts and History Council, call Jennifer Gruger at 505-710-2924.
Don’t forget to slow down to 15 mph when you visit and watch out for Santa who will be escorted through town by the Fire Department sometime after dark.