Sherry Pufky first noticed the glowing white paper bags along the roadside in Jonesville on Christmas Eve when she moved to the area 27 years ago. “It was a beautiful sight,” she said of the lights shimmering on snowy front lawns and along sidewalks and driveways. “Especially on Christmas Eve.”
The luminaria tradition can be traced back to Spanish merchants who, impressed by the paper lanterns they came upon in China, decided to make their own version. While the luminaria tradition is concentrated in the southwestern United States, it has spread across the nation and has popped up in several spots in the Capital Region.
After many years of impressive displays in the Clifton Park hamlet of Jonesville, the holiday ritual has since spilled over into neighboring developments such as Ballston Lake’s Dutch Meadows and Timber Creek Preserve.
Pufky moved from Jonesville into the Dutch Meadows development where residents quickly picked up the tradition. She now lives in the Timber Creek Preserve, a new development in which residents have coordinated a neighborhood-wide luminaria display for the second year in a row.
Pufky was inspired to carry the tradition over to her new home in Timber Creek last year. Believing it was a “great neighborly thing to do” she asked the Timber Creek neighborhood to help make this a community-wide ritual and “they did!” This year, the homeowners’ association took over the reins and organized the luminaries in Timber Creek.
“When I heard about it, I wanted to participate because I recalled enjoying seeing [the luminaria] as a kid,” said Timber Creek resident Judy Bayer, who grew up with the tradition in Virginia.
While Bayer grew up with luminaries at Christmastime, she hasn’t consistently participated in the tradition. “It sort of depends on the neighborhood you’re in,” she explained. In one neighborhood she lived in, the homes were spaced far apart than the neighborhood in which she grew up. “You didn’t have that same aesthetic,” she said. Homes in the Timber Creek Preserve are relatively close together, making the luminaries especially impressive.
Both Bayer and Pufky use lunch-sized white paper bags and battery-powered lights, not candles, in their luminaria displays. “It’s a little safer since we’ll set ours around 3 p.m. and go to St. Edward’s Church in Clifton Park. We didn’t want to risk the candles blowing out,” Bayer explained.
Bayer adds pebbles to the bottom of the paper bag to keep them in place. “Sand will work, too,” she noted. Since it rained last year, Bayer and Pufky decided to protect their luminaria against foul weather by placing the white paper bags inside gallon-sized Ziploc bags.
Many members of the neighborhood use the traditional white paper bags and small tea candles, while others may opt for less traditional routes. “We’ve given people choices. Some people may be using glass jars. I have switched from candles to the battery operated LED candles although some still use real ones. It’s a mixed bag of what they put them in,” explained Pufky.
Bayer described a Christmas Eve party at her sister-in-law’s house near Jonesville years ago, saying, “Quite a few adults commented on how moving the lights were. I think it’s sort of unexpected for someone who doesn’t live in the area to come through and see them. It’s stunning. No, that’s not the right word … Magical.”