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Create Luminaries for Holidays and Celebrations - a Good Project for Children

Updated on October 20, 2012

Luminarias are beautiful in a very simple way

Luminarias outline the old church at the Jemez Monument, New Mexico
Luminarias outline the old church at the Jemez Monument, New Mexico | Source
Children love luminarias!
Children love luminarias! | Source

Paper lanterns for Halloween, Christmas, and many other occasions

The luminaria or farolito - also called a luminary - is a lantern made with a paper bag, a scoop or two of sand and a votive candle . They line your home outside on the sidewalk, fence, steps, balcony rails, rooftop - anywhere that can safely accommodate them. You can also use them inside on all kinds of surfaces. Accent the mantel or stairs. Use as centerpieces on a festive table. Make your own or buy them already made. You can have real votive candles or battery operated candles - or even electric lights.

As you can see, luminarias are a festive and beautiful sight at night. They signal to everyone that you are celebrating. They are a tradition in many places. In the United States, they are especially appreciated in the Southwestern states. In the far east, paper lanterns have a completely different form and are used for different holidays, but they are still used for celebration and for other peaceful gatherings.

Luminaries used to be primarily for Christmas, but now they are also used for Halloween, Valentine's Day, Fourth of July, weddings, and parties. Both making them and lighting them are great fun. (On Halloween, if you are concerned about children getting close to the luminaries along a sidewalk with their costumes, put the bags up on balcony rails and in a pattern on the front lawn, where they are away from the children.)

You can either have children draw and color pictures onto them, or cut shaped holes into them. A wide variety of Christmas and Halloween pictures can be drawn freehand, or copied or traced from printed pictures found online. Cutting a Jack-o-lantern face in each paper bag is also great fun.

You can even create luminary stained glass windows. Cut an arched window in the bag, then trace the outline of the cut window on a piece of tracing paper or tissue paper. Then outline black "window panes" inside the arched window and color them different colors. Cut a big enough area around the picture of the stained glass window to tape the tissue paper inside the bag over the window hole.

Another way to make stained glass windows is to find tracing paper that will go through your printer, then print real stained glass pictures that you've found online on the paper. Cut the outline of the window into the bag, and tape the printed window inside the bag over the hole. This will work with other celebration pictures, too, such as family photos.

Make luminarias with printed pictures for a 50th wedding anniversary party

For a family party, such as a 50th wedding anniversary, print family pictures on the thinnest possilbe paper (a good tracing paper will usually go through a laser printer). Cut out oval holes in the bags, like picture frames. (You can even draw cartoon picture frames around the holes.) Then as people walk toward the front door, they will see the lifetime of marriage in pictures in the luminarias lining the sidewalk. Or, if you prefer, make fewer of these for inside the house, to be displayed at the party. You could use battery-operated candles indoors.

To make luminarias, you will need:

1. paper bags (They can be plain paper, white or colored bags for the occasion, as long as they are thin enough to allow light to shine through.)
2. a piece of cardboard or foam board for every project participant - (placed inside of the bag, so the design can be either cut into the bag or drawn onto the bag)
3. if drawing on designs - pencils, crayons and/or black markers

if cutting designs

4. single edge razor blade or craft knife
5. tracing or tissue paper for "window" panes

You can make luminarias in three different ways:

1. draw (and color) onto the bag front
2. cut a shape into the bag front (either with or without a tracing paper window pane)
3. draw onto tracing paper and tape it inside the front of the bag without cutting the bag (This works best for very small children.)

With any of these methods, the candle will highlight the design on the bag.

Before using magic markers or crayons, lightly draw the design in pencil. Then go over it with the magic marker or crayon after you have the shape you want.

For Halloween, very simple bags can be made by cutting or drawing Jack-o-lantern faces on the bag or using black magic markers to draw spider webs, bats, fun Halloween words (BOO! or BEWARE!) or other simple designs on the bags.

For Christmas, shapes like a Christmas stocking, Star of Bethlehem, Christmas tree, present with a bow, snowflakes, snowmen and women, Santa Clause, sleigh, poinsettias and reindeer could be used. Cookie cutters or Christmas-themed coloring books are good sources for pictures.

When drawing onto the outside front of the bag or cutting a design into it, place the cardboard inside the paper bag to give a solid surface to write or cut on, and to protect the back of the bag from being cut or having marker soaking through to it.

Before decorating the bag, fold down the top about 2 inches. This gives the bag a firm rim so it will stand better.

For an extra touch, you could use a paper punch to cut a snowflake, star or heart outline, or to edge the folded over bag. You can thread ribbon or colored twine in and out of the folded top with the punched holes.

After the bag is decorated, put it in place and pour some sand in the bottom to anchor it. Votive candles work very well and are safer in the bags. Be sure the candle in the center of the bag and not touching anything but the sand.

Plastic luminaries with electric lights can also be purchased for indoors or out, and ready-to-use luminarias for occasions can also be purchased.


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