Luminarias History & How You Can Get Involved

It’s Time Again

To recap, a luminaria (pronounced loomeneerea) is a Christmas lantern consisting of a candle set in a paper bag weighted with sand and typically placed with others along a driveway or sidewalk as a holiday decoration. Each year Willo lights 33,000 candles in 11,000 paper bags; it’s a staggering community and volunteer achievement. So how did we get here?

How It All Began

Several people have asked me that question in the past and until recently, I couldn’t answer it. Even our current board members didn’t know. I eventually tracked down and met with Diane Blanco on the 300 block of Lewis Ave who started it all 37 years ago. And yes! She still lives in the same home in Willo she’s owned for almost 45 years. Diane graciously shared several stories during my interview with her.

Early on, she had become friends with Byron and Jo Ann Stalcup who also lived at 301 W Lewis Ave. One day she told Byron how her friends to the north on Wagon Wheel Dr were doing luminaria for their street and Byron suggested the two of them should do it for their block. After brainstorming one summer afternoon in her garage, a plan was hatched. They went to the Lower Salt River bottom to get sand and they bought brown paper bags and candles from a food store. Jo casually spent the months leading up to December wrapping the candles in aluminum foil and tape because they would burn longer. Rather than using 3 votive candles per bag as we do today, they used one full-sized candle.

Diane, Byron and Jo lit the luminarias at 7 pm and at 10 pm, they blew out the candles. They quickly discovered this didn’t work well as they would blow out a candle, take three steps and blow again. Long before they had extinguished their 100+ luminarias, they were all out of breath. Jo came up with an idea to use a turkey baster to blow out the candles and that worked well for them.

Their kids would also pitch in and one-year Bryon’s son Matthew made clay pots. They tried using the pots with lighter fluid instead of candles. But the pots hadn’t been fired in a kiln and after the fluid burned a little while, the pots cracked which left them scrambling to find candles.

Each year they built, set up and lit luminarias for each of four nights on their block of Lewis Ave between 3rd and 5th avenues. Over the years, people from neighboring blocks took interest and before long, everybody wanted to do it. Traditionally, luminarias are made from brown paper bags. While others started using white bags, they stuck with brown bags in keeping with a Southwest feel. Eventually the popularity of white paper bags persuaded them, and they switched.

Seven (7) years after starting luminaria on their block, Byron passed away. Jo and Diane carried on with the tradition, and Diane did the luminarias on her block for a total of 17 years. Today the residents of the 300 block of Lewis Ave largely consist of an older generation. Many of them have physical limitations that make it difficult, if not impossible, to build and light luminarias. Sadly, in recent years their block has been under a threat of “going dark” as it’s been a challenge to find a volunteer to cover it. The good news is Diane is still here and she’d be happy to host a holiday party for people to build her block’s luminaria.

Don’t Let Your Block Go Dark!

Willo consists of 15 streets, 44 blocks in all and it’s truly beautiful to see every block and 3rd & 7th avenues lined with luminaria. But this can ONLY happen if our community comes together to make it happen! Each block needs a volunteer and, as of November 9th, we have only 21 of the 44 blocks covered.

So, what’s needed from a volunteer? Truthfully, very little if you delegate! Like the saying goes “many hands make light work”. Each block captain needs to pick up bags, candles, sand and lighters from the organizer, schedule a time and place for residents to build their luminarias, set them out along the sidewalks and light them each night. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for the block to hold a pot luck or holiday party! You don’t have to host building the luminarias. That can be done at anyone’s house and is typically done outside.

Each block needs at least 1 volunteer OR IT WILL GO DARK. You can volunteer for more than one block and you can volunteer to be someone’s backup. Volunteers will be emailed additional guidance to make their task as easy as possible.

Get Involved

Our online luminaria sign-up sheet has all the details and always shows the latest status for each block.

Current Block Coverage

Covered Blocks
Cambridge – 500 MaryAnne Majestic
Coronado – 100 Murray & Biby Carbonneau
Coronado – 500 Darren Leek
Cypress – 500 Wylie Carhartt
Edgemont – 100 Philip Talarico
Edgemont – 300 Salina & Josh Bednarek
Encanto – 100 Lisa Hunt
Encanto – 300 Linda Vachata
Encanto – 500 Robert Buhrman
Granada – 500 Bitsy Susich
Monte Vista – 300 Nestor Gonzalez
Monte Vista – 500 Andrea Meury
Palm – 100 Gene Nance
Palm – 300 Paul Andres
Palm – 500 Kathy Moore
Vernon – 100 Ruth Anne Pedersen
Vernon – 300 Juan And Robert Ruiz-Langley
Virginia – 500 Howard & Kelly Frampton
Wilshire – 100 Mike Moore
Windsor – 300 Jim Stewart
Windsor – 500 Kevin & Jane Kottmer
Dark Blocks Needing Volunteers
Almeria – 100
Almeria – 300
Almeria – 500
Cambridge – 100
Cambridge – 300
Coronado – 300
Cypress – 100
Cypress – 300
Edgemont – 500
Granada – 100
Granada – 300
Holly – 100
Holly – 300
Holly – 500
Lewis – 100
Lewis – 300
Lewis – 500
Vernon – 500
Virginia – 100
Virginia – 300
Wilshire – 300
Wilshire – 500
Windsor – 100
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.