How to Make Luminary Bags

candle image by Yuri Tuchkov from

Things You'll Need

  • Brown paper bag, lunch-size
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Sand
  • Candle, votive size
  • Long-handle lighter

The use of luminaria began as a Christmas tradition in Mexico. This type of lantern originally consisted of a paper bag with a candle set in sand inside. Today luminaria have moved beyond Mexico to become popular decorative lights for Christmas in other countries as well. The first luminaria were squares of pinon branches lit to light the road to church. When paper arrived with settlers, candles were placed in bags weighted by sand.

Decorative Paper Bag Luminaria

Draw simple shapes on the lower half of the bag, front and back.

Open bag and cut out shapes.

Fold top edge of bag down two inches.

Place 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sand in bottom of bag.

Place unlit candle into sand in middle of bag.

Place bag on flat surface where it is unlikely to tip over.

Light candle with the long-handled lighter.


  • Have children decorate the bag, but help them with lighting the candle. Line multiple luminary bags up along a walkway to light the path. When the candle has burned down, save the sand and bag for reuse.


  • Light with care; windy conditions could cause the bag to catch fire. Avoid waxed bags.