FARMINGTON – Drivers waited 4½ hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic Saturday in Farmington for the chance to be immersed in one of New Mexico’s most popular and traditional Christmastime spectacles: the lighting of luminarias.
A luminaria is formed from a brown paper bag that is partially rolled down to reinforce stability, filled part way with sand and then given a candle to illuminate a walkway or driveway.
While the origin of the lights is debatable, overall, the bags are meant as a symbol to light the path for Christ, or for the walk to church Christmas Eve. As the culture spread north, so did the beauty of the luminarias.
Amanda Robles, director of student engagement and campus life at San Juan College, said people reported waiting in line for three to five hours, and the last cars went through around 1 a.m. Sunday.
Preparation for the 42nd annual Luminarias Display began well before Saturday. Before setting up the bags Thursday on campus, a luminarias committee, made up of students and staff members, met months in advance to prep for the event.
In the past, the committee enlisted the help of kindergarteners to fill the bags with sand. Because of COVID-19 this year, college students and other volunteers had to prepare the bags.
Robles said that when the pandemic initially hit, Big 5 Sporting Goods used its closed store to help fold 1,000 bags for the event.
While Robles said this year was different, the committee adjusted its plan to ensure the tradition would not be forgone and that all who wanted to see the lights would be able to do so safely.
“We worked together as a committee so that we could have a safe event during the pandemic,” Robles said. “We decided to only do the driving route.”
Thousands of cars lined up on 30th Street to Butler Avenue and through the college. Twelve thousand bags were filled with a total of 6 cubic yards of sand, or close to 10 tons, which was donated by Mesa Sand and Gravel for the for the second year in a row.
In the past, the display has been a walk-through event with close to 27,000 bags lining the walkways and driveways on campus.
Lucy Haber, spokeswoman for the college, said normally when people are walking, they can see the designs better and hear others talk about them. During the drive-thru event, that wasn’t possible.
“That is a little different when you’re driving through,” Haber said.
This year, the dental hygienists put out a “2” and a “1” – as in 21, their graduating year – and designed a giant tooth to be outlined by the luminarias.
Robles said the event wouldn’t be possible without an outpouring of support from the community.
Planning for the 43rd annual Luminarias Display has already begun.