Luminarias are a holiday tradition in Albuquerque, and on Christmas Eve, many make the trek to view the paper bag lights to get in the spirit of the season. The New Mexican tradition goes back more than 300 years, and comes from the Spanish villages along the Rio Grande. The glowing bags of Christmas lanterns, or luminarias, were put out to welcome the Christ child into the world.
The paper bag luminarias are weighted down by sand or dirt and a votive candle inside is lit. The top of the bag is folded down once or twice, making for a unique and uniform appearance. They're placed along sidewalks and walkways that lead into homes. Certain areas of Albuquerque decorate liberally with luminarias on Christmas Eve. The list below outlines some of the best ones to visit. Some are best driven through, and others call for getting out and seeing the lights up close.
Driving through luminaria displays has a certain etiquette. If driving through a neighborhood such as the country club area, or Dietz Farm or Lee Acres, the first rule of thumb is to slow down. Safety is the number one priority, whether in a car or walking through the displays. You're there for the viewing, so slow down and enjoy. It's also important to have your headlights off. This allows for maximum enjoyment of the lights. Of course, do so with safety in mind. Many will be walking through the areas, so it's imperative that you drive slowly enough that walkers are not at risk if they're crossing the street.
Children and strollers are often part of the mix, so please keep that in mind.
Old Town is lit with electric luminarias weeks before Christmas, but on Christmas Eve, the streets are lined with the brown paper lights, creating a magical, one of a kind display. Merchants keep their shops open, and there are always a few places to purchase hot chocolate or coffee to stay warm. Bring your camera, because just like at the Balloon Fiesta, you'll want to take lots of pictures.
The country club neighborhood is within walking distance of Old Town, and many choose to walk it. It's easiest to access from San Pasquale, just south of Central. From this major street, take any street east and travel the neighborhood.
The south valley is a large component of the bus tour the city provides every Christmas Eve. Driving is suitable here because of the long distances. Travel to the Alamosa neighborhood, which is bounded by Central to the north, and lies between Old Coors and Coors. Bridge is to the south. Take Central west to Old Coors and travel south to Bridge, then head east to 2nd Street and north through Barelas.
Drive to the National Hispanic Cultural Center to see its display of lights, then drive north on 2nd Street through the heart of Barelas.
Enter the neighborhood from Carlisle Boulevard. Ridgecrest veers east from Carlisle, and its main artery is a good place to investigate both the Ridgecrest and Parkland Hills neighborhoods. From Ridgecrest, turn onto any of the offshoot streets, such as Parkland Circle, Pershing or Morningside Drive.
The Nor Este neighborhood is north of Paseo del Norte and can be accessed from Louisiana or Wyoming. From Louisiana, travel east into the Desert Ridge Trails development. From Wyoming, turn east into Nor Este Estates. From Barstow, turn west once you are north of Paseo del Norte into the neighborhood streets near La Cueva high school for some dazzling displays.
North Albuquerque Acres
While in the area, visit the North Albuquerque Acres development for beautiful displays. The homes are spaced at large distances because of the large parcels, but beautiful nonetheless.
North Valley (Lee Acres and Dietz Farms)
You'll put in a bit of driving to cover the areas in the north valley where there are luminaria displays, but it will be well worth it. Start by traveling north on Rio Grande to Dietz Farms, which is located east of the Flying Star Plaza (where you can find Bookworks and the Flying Star). Turn west onto Dietz Farm Place and drive the circle around and back to Rio Grande. Then go north on Rio Grande to see the lights at the big houses. Turn right onto Chavez and take another right onto Nabor Road, then a left on Solar Road, which takes you directly into Lee Acres subdivision.
Drive the streets of Lee Acres (Fairway and Solar), looping around until you take Solar east and eventually onto Fourth Street.
Mount Calvary Memorial Park
This is such a surprise because we don't normally associate a cemetery with luminarias. Yet every year, this touching tribute to those who have passed away brings many out to see it. The park is located south of Menaul, west of I-25 and east of Broadway, and north of Mountain.