Luminaria To Light The Way Home

Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 12:49pm
Photo by FalkonV311

Luminaria To Light The Way Home

My father died in the autumn after I turned 14, and my heart was ripped apart. Through the cold, dark weeks of adolescence that followed, I slouched towards the winter solstice with molasses in my soul. Everything my father had touched with joy in life became emotional shrapnel to me upon his death, and I soon found that he had touched absolutely every aspect of my world.

As Advent fell towards Christmas, once-joyful traditions filled me with dread: biscochitos, posole with red chile, piñon smoke, Christmas Eve carols, and the most painful of all: luminarias. Luminarias are the light and soul of Christmas in New Mexico, my homeland. They are beautifully simple: little brown paper sack lanterns, set out on Christmas Eve to pave the holy family’s path to the manger with light.

I grew up spending Christmas Eve with my papa, filling brown paper sacks with sand and votive candles. We lit them together with silent joy as the sun set.

The year my papa died, no one had the heart to make luminarias. My mama, sister, brother and I left a silent, dark house to sing Christmas Eve carols at church. We dreaded the darkness that awaited our return home, but instead we found a miracle: our home was surrounded by luminarias, lit and blazing in their full glory.

My aunt called that evening to confess — my father had come to her in a dream, and instructed her to light the luminarias. Everyone will all be so down in the dumps this year, he said. It will be such a great surprise!

Every year since, I’ve lit the luminarias. Some years I light them with my mama, and some years with my daughters. Some years I light them with my sister, and some years with my brother. For a time, I lit them with a man once much beloved. Now I light them on my own.

In the years since that luminaria miracle in the pit of my family’s winter, so much joy and so much sadness have come to pass. I became a wife and a mother. I became British, then New Mexican again. Finally, through immense pain and joy, I became a free woman.

In Britain, I learned to light diyas at Diwali. In Berlin I learned to release the old year like a fire lantern, and dance in the New Year with fireworks at my feet. I learned that a single flame can drive an immensity of homesickness back into the darkness.

I lit candles when my children were born and when my grandfather died. I lit candles when the power went out on the remote cattle ranch where I once found myself so deeply lost and alone that I feared my life was over (it wasn’t).

I light candles when there is nothing left but fertile darkness, from which to draw back the light. I light candles. My children blow them out. I light them again. In Latin America, to be born is described as coming into the light (dar a luz).

I don’t know how many precious days I have left. Should I, like my father, pass before I grow old, then I too will find a way to linger just long enough to rekindle the flame that guides my family back into the light.


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Rachel Faith

is the author of two bilingual children's books, Postcard from London and Postcard from Copenhagen. Her writings have also appeared in The Economist and the Guadalupe County Communicator. A dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States, she lives on a patch of prairie near Santa Fe, where she is the chief wrangler to three small children and one small pack of coyotes.

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Beautiful essay. When we experience pain and darkness we sometimes need to light a candle to find our way home. For this Christmas decoration I put a single candle in my windows to remind me that I'm making my way home - to me. Rachel, thank you for sharing your story.

Dear Rachel: Thank you for sharing this moving, heartfelt reflection. It is a beautiful piece on the power of rituals and the effect of light. Much thanks! Christopher

I, too, love the light of candles and draw much comfort from them.

Your story touched my heart. Thank you for sharing. You lighted my Christmas, literally.

Absolutely beautiful, Rachel.... finding ways to keep the light burning and keep dancing, even in the depth of despair. Thank you for touching my heart.

Thank you. From a fellow New Mexican who, this year, for the first time, lit luminarias in Britain instead of feeling terribly homesick on Christmas Eve.

Beautiful! I wish I could have been more present during your dark days! So wonderful that the One whose coming we remember was/is the Light of the World!

Beautiful reflection, thank you. The thought of your surprise when you saw the illuminaries is precious. From Sharon Salzburg's reflection."once we run on the light we see. It doesn't matter if the room has been dark for just five seconds, a month, or 10,000 years. The feeling of clarity and of belonging where we are is there in that present moment." What a feeling of your father and home that must have been! Happy New Year

You are keeping his light alive through these words and actions of creation. Luminaria are lighting your way to healing and hope. During my time dealing with cancer treatment, I would frequently awaken in the night and light a candle when I had difficulty sleeping.
Blessings for your journey! Janet