In one of the greatest New Mexico traditions there has always been this ongoing debate. The contentious issue is what to call those pretty little lights in paper sacks that are all around town. Some call them “Farolitos” and others call them “Luminarias”. This issue is almost discussed as much as the state question, “Red or Green”. It has been said that traditionally Northern New Mexicans refer to them as Farolitos where Southern New Mexicans call the lights Luminarias.
Farolito directly translated from Spanish means “little lantern” and closely related to the word Farolillo, which refers to the traditional lanterns hanging above the streets during fiestas and verbenas. The English translation for Luminaria is an illumination, which ambiguously could mean any type of illumination, and many New Mexicans believe it to be the proper term due to its tie to the Christian Christmas tradition.
Northerners will say that the paper sacks are farolitos and only refer to luminarias when talking about festival bonfires. As it may seem, both terms seem appropriate depending on who you talk to.
But it is interesting to note that this debate has been highlighted for many years even outside the state of New Mexico. I found an article talking about this dating all the way back to1965 from the Milwaukee Journal! Check it out by clicking here.
Regardless of where you are from, or what you call it, we can all be proud of this old and beautiful New Mexico tradition! With that being said, whats your tradition? luminaria or farolito?