ALISON STEWART, host:
While holiday lights are lovely to look at, they are symbolic as well in some parts of the world. For example, all across New Mexico, communities are gearing up for Christmas Eve with elaborate displays of small handmade lanterns that are supposed to light the way for Joseph and Mary, and commemorate their search for food and lodging before the birth of Jesus. As Elaine Baumgartel reports, the tradition of making farolitos takes a lot of work.
(Soundbite of folding paper)
ELAINE BAUMGARTEL: At Acequia Madre Elementary School in the heart of historic Santa Fe, students are tapped for their nimble fingers and excessive holiday energy to fold brown paper lunch bags by the hundreds for Christmas Eve. The lanterns will be arranged along walkways, walls, and rooftops throughout the neighborhood.
Mr. JACK WHEELER(ph) (Teacher's Assistant, Acequia Madre Elementary School): Go ahead and get me the bag from over there. Give me some more bags.
BAUMGARTEL: Teacher's assistant Jack Wheeler is supervising the effort in the rec room at the school.
Mr. WHEELER: This is my little project to try to get as many bags of farolitos filled before we leave today.
BAUMGARTEL: As she scoops sand into a paper bag, fifth-grader Miranda Sanford(ph) says her class prepped 500 farolitos, maybe more.
Ms. MIRANDA SANFORD (Student, Acequia Madre Elementary School): They're pretty much made of paper bags, sand, and candles, definitely. It's like there's a paper bag and then you put sand inside, so the candle doesn't just go straight to the bottom and get wax everywhere.
BAUMGARTEL: Another fifth-grader, Gabriella Montoya Etierney(ph), says she's pretty much got the folding process down. The mouths of the lunch-sized bags must stay stiff and open at the top so that the light from votive candles can shine from within.
Ms. GABRIELLA MONTOYA ETIERNEY (Student, Acequia Madre Elementary School): Like, it's pretty easy actually. You can fold it down as far as you want. I like to do it an inch, maybe a little less. And then you kind of just uncrinkle them. That's 10 pieces of it.
BAUMGARTEL: Marco San Naval's(ph) boots are crusted with sand from the pile on a tarp in the middle of the room. The sixth-grader says once the bags are folded, they're filled partially with sand and gravel so that when they're placed on walls and rooftops, they won't fall down.
Mr. MARCO SAN NAVAL (Student, Acequia Madre Elementary School): Yeah, I love them because it's fun just filling them with sand and taking them up on the roof. The school looks pretty nice.
BAUMGARTEL: Jack Wheeler says some parents will volunteer time over the weekend to complete the rest of the farolitos.
Mr. WHEELER: But these kids have done a fantastic job, as you can see. That's a lot of work.
BAUMGARTEL: Wheeler says they need over 2,000 farolitos to decorate the school grounds.
Mr. WHEELER: This is about as far as we're going to get, I think.
BAUMGARTEL: Half the rec room floor is filled with farolitos lined up against each other like a sea of sack lunches with goodies inside. And on Christmas Eve, parents turn out in droves to light the votive candles one by one just as the sun goes down. Thousands of locals and visitors will turn out for the annual farolito walk on Christmas Eve, wandering up and down narrow winding streets, enjoying the smell of burning pinion wood from bonfires, and admiring the flickering glow of the farolitos lighting the way. For NPR News, I'm Elaine Baumgartel in Santa Fe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, students at Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe, N.M., participate in the holiday tradition of making, setting and lighting farolitos.
Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, students at Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe, N.M., participate in the holiday tradition of making, setting and lighting farolitos. Students help by folding the brown paper lunch bags and filling them with sand before a votive candle is lit inside at dusk.
Elaine Baumgartel reports for member station KUNM.