After posting about our farolito tradition, I got curious about the history of this tradition.
Apparently some people get all fiery about whether they’re called farolitos, or luminarias. Since it’s not my family tradition (it’s Dan’s) and since he calls them farolitos, it’s good enough for me, so on this blog, they’re called farolitos.
It looks like farolitos first appear historically around the 16th century. The Spanish had the very practical tradition of lighting bonfires along the roads and churchyards to guide people to Midnight Mass on the final night of Las Posadas.
Las Posadas (meaning “the inns”), is a festive celebration and reenactment of the story of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.
During Las Posadas, a group of theatrical singers go from house to house, carrying farolitos. The carolers sing a song pleading for food and shelter. At some homes, they are rejected, but others will invite them in and offer food – posole, tamales, biscochitos, or hot chocolate.
In the early 19th century, U.S. settlers on the Santa Fe trail brought Chinese paper lanterns to hang from their portals and light their entrance ways. They were beautiful, but expensive. Eventually, the settlers began to make their own, using the simpler and less expensive, brown paper bags.