It’s a simple recipe, but it’s a good one. So good, in fact, that it’s made our little village famous. One night each year, hundreds of people from miles around visit Clarendon Hills just to experience it. Driving slowly down our streets, they gaze through their car windows with wide eyes and huge smiles, taking it all in.
The recipe: a brown paper bag, a scoop of sand, and a candle. Three ingredients, one special night, and boundless joy. Thanks to the luminarias, Clarendon Hills is never more beautiful than on Christmas Eve.
If you were in town on Wednesday, you certainly know what I’m talking about. But if not, and you haven’t seen the luminarias before, I encourage you to check it out. Hop in the car with the family, play some Christmas music and drive around town before tucking the kids into bed next year. It is truly a breathtaking sight to behold.
Brown bags filled with sand line driveways and sidewalks throughout the village, with scarcely a broken link in the chain. As the sun sets and residents in coats and hats make their way outside to light the candles inside the bags, the streets come alive. Dark driveways and lawns are transformed into welcoming pathways of light. Homes, trees, and walkways are bathed in a warm glow. House after house flickers and dances in a feast for the eyes and the heart.
Luminarias are said to have originated hundreds of years ago with Spanish merchants who were inspired by the paper lanterns they’d seen in China. Returning to Spanish territories that are now the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico, they lit these beautiful decorations during the Christmas season to light the way for Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.
I really appreciate that idea: taking care to light the way for Christ and inviting Him into our homes on Christmas Eve. In a culture where Christmas sometimes seems to be more about coupons and catalogs than anything else, the luminarias do a wonderful job of celebrating the reason for the season with beauty and warmth.
Sadly, the next morning is a different story. By the time children are first reaching into their stockings, the luminarias have become half-burned brown bags (or sopping wet messes if it’s rained). Sand has often poured out onto the driveway, spilling melted wax that leaves a lasting mark on the sidewalk. Like the wrapping paper and the tree, when Christmas ends, the luminarias become one more thing that needs to be cleaned up and thrown away.
But what about that message they stood for? When the candles are gone, does Christ’s invitation get revoked? Does the spirit dissipate when the tree disappears? And when the shiny new gifts we receive have turned into old stuff we store, does the gratitude of receiving get tucked away in a drawer as well?
I hope not.
As you come down from Christmas and get back into your routine this week, I encourage you to think of the luminarias. As you write your thank-you notes, try to relive the gratitude of receiving those gifts … and then pass that gratitude on to someone else. Whether it’s giving toys to a toy drive, neighbor, church, or school; giving some time and energy to a charity or shelter nearby; or simply nurturing a friend whose holiday was not so bright; there are so many opportunities to bring the spirit of Christmas into the new year and keep it with you all year long.
May your new year be as beautiful, inspiring, joyful, and bright as our village is every December 24th!
Mike is a Clarendon Hills resident; husband; Indian prince; Indian Guide Dad; a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker. Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around Clarendon Hills. It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlights a new business, or announces school happenings. He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting Clarendon Hills residents and even a little about Clarendon Hills history. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”.