Stop by Santa Fe on Christmas Eve, or Albuquerque, or Taos, or another New Mexican city, and you're apt to find driveways and walkways and even roads lined in hundreds of paper lunch bags.
These bags do not contain sandwiches nor apples, however; they hold a scoop of sand or dirt and, at the center of the sand, a votive candle.
It's a luminaria, or farolito, if you prefer, and while the simple and spectacular lanterns aren't seen quite as often around California, there are places that forgo the strings of blinking bulbs and LED lights for the quieter, on-the-ground display of paper, sand, candle, and pure magic.
If you adore this Southwestern tradition, which has extended beyond the Land of Enchantment to Texas, Phoenix, and points beyond, schedule a trip to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont or Fullerton Arboretum for a different sort of seasonal illumination experience.
The illumination is obviously not electrical, like so many holiday displays, but rather solely relies on a small flame, and how that flame dances within the confines of the bag, creating shadows and fanciful forms.
The Rancho Santa Ana luminarias will be out and flickering over four December evenings: the 9th, 10th, 16th, and 17th (so, yes, two Fridays and two Saturdays).
Expect to see about one thousand lanters aglow, a truly terrific sight. Live music from Windsong Canyon as well as other acts and seasonal treats (hello, hand-warming hot cider) complement the half-mile stroll.
Lanterns play an important role in cultures around the planet in myriad ways and on many occasions.
The luminaria, in its present and pleasing form, is very much symbolic of the Southwest, and the promise that bizcochito cookies and posole and champurrado and the other treats of a New Mexican Christmas await luminaria lookers at the end of the trail.
Scooping sand into lunch bags, and adding votives, is a time-honored way for New Mexicans to socialize with family and friends while enjoying the outdoors on Christmas Eve day. But in New Mexico, and elsewhere, luminarias are popping up earlier in the month these days, at gardens and museums and other public spheres.
Whether you call the paper bags farolitos — a term more apt to be used in the northern part of New Mexico — or luminarias, you can find this different sort of holiday light sight in Southern California.