Thursday, July 3, 2008

Luminaria - Light up the night

Fireworks aren't the only way to light up the night. Independence Day is a great time to entertain outside. It's expected, so the mosquitos and heat get a pass. Some of us might be having parties - a gathering, or a blow out, or just you and yours in the back yard for burgers and a run through the sprinkler. Or maybe later in the year. Adding some cool and easy evening lighting can change the whole feel. Luminaria - glowing magic. This is a set of detailed instructions, but it's easy to do - don't get distracted by my obsessive need to anticipate and answer every single question anyone might ever have.

Straight to the FAQ's (it took me several years to figure this acronym out - even though we now call it an 'abrev')
  1. What is a luminaria? A white paper bag with sand in the bottom for weight, and a candle in the middle of the sand. Light the candle and voila - a lovely glowing white light. And yes, there are variations, but we are keeping things simple today

  2. Are they safe? Yes, way safer than fireworks. Put together correctly they are very safe. Remember, this is an outside thing, not inside.
    They can even make it safer - here we used luminaria to light a small cobblestone area, to make sure that people could see their way across the cobblestones.

  3. Safe even with children around? Use the same common-sensical caution used with grills and candles.

  4. Are they expensive? Cheap. Paper bag, sand, candle. Cheap.

  5. Are they hard to make? Or worse, time consuming? Not difficult, and time is directly relative to the number you use. 10 luminaria will add a festive light your deck or patio. 100 luminaria can dramatically change a huge outdoor soiree. That's 98 bags right there. Soon to be glowing. When it gets dark.
  6. And WHY would I want to use luminaria? It's all about the magic of candlelight. This is candlelight + glow, so more magic. Use them to light a path, to line the edge of a wall, to keep someone from stepping in a hole, but mostly to give some gentle light to your outdoor event without a lot of trouble. And the magic.

Here is what you need:

  • Paper bags with a flat bottom; today we are using white. A lunch sack -on the left - is small, but do-able. I use a 20 lb. bag, on the right. My neighborhood deli (or any other merchant using white flat-bottom paper bag) sells them to me for a dime. Or a paper supply company, if you are having a big party. Clearly, using other colors will produce a different color glow. These are going to have a yellowy candle glow. Gift bags don't work well because the paper has a coating that makes it opaque, and all the light shoots out the top. More opaque = less glow. We are going for glow.

  • Sand for weight in the bottom. Alternative, pebbles (pea gravel) or even (unused) kitty litter. Did I really need to specifcy 'unused'? Just being safe. Do NOT use anything damp as the moisture will seep into the bag and the bottom will fall out.

  • Candle - using a votive candle in a glass container is the safest and quickest option. No tapers. Some put a votive directly into the sand at the bottom. I use the glass to add weight, and to minimize the risk of the bag catching fire. First, make a cuff at the top of the bag, by folding over the top, so you have a cuff of about 1" at the top. The folded cuff helps the bag stand up straight and open. If the edge tears a little bit, it's OK, there are no luminaria inspectors out and about on holiday nights.This you can do ahead: fold all the cuffs down, fold the bags flat, set aside in your pantry. You could have done this in February, and then pulled them out today. If you could find them. What, you're doing this on the fly? Move on. Put some sand in the bottom of the bag (or sand-alternate). Cover the bottom well; this provides the stability. If you are NOT using a glass holder for the candle, you will need a lot more sand - about 2" deep, to anchor the candle. If you anticipate a breeze, obviously give the bottom more weight. If it's very windy, it's not the night for luminaria.At this point, I usually set the luminaria out . OK, let's take that statement "I set the luminaria out..." lightly. One of my 'helpers' sets them out. This is not the favorite job of our Young Son. You (or your helpers) can definitely do this well ahead of time. Put the candle into the sand (votive cup and all). If you aren't using a container (votive cup), use at least 2" sand and nestle the candle in so that it is upright and stable. It needs to be right in the middle.Light the candles about 15 minutes before your guests will arrive. You do not have to wait until it's pitch black dark to light them, so make sure your candles will burn long enough -say from dusk until the end of the party.

    A WORD about your supplies:

Candles: Use votives, not tapers. You may be tempted by bag of tea lights, in little aluminum sleeves for cheap. DO NOT get 30 minute tea lights. The candle's packaging should state how long the candle will burn. Your event, even if it's a backyard picnic will last more than 30 minutes. I want at least 4 hours burn time - because the magic of the luminaria is going to make the party go on into the night. I use votives already poured into the glass containers, from Garden Ridge, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, sometimes Wal-Mart. Also, a florist supply house, for lot of luminaria. If you use loose votives, or long-burning tea lights, drop them into your own little votive cups. Once, I set the candles on some jar tops in the sand, in a pinch. I always go back to votive cups or pre-poured.

And finally, I must give the cautions - because I am a mother.
Glass as the outside container? Just don't. The risks from broken glass are considerable. Some glass containers will spontaneously break with the heat of the candle. And then they just get knocked over. And break.

Wind, drought, dry conditions: These are candles. If you anticipate a breezy evening, the weighted bag serves to keep the candle from blowing out. A windy evening? Not the night for luminaria. If you live where the world is very dry, with warnings about other kind of outdoor fires, this is not the time for luminaria.

Rain: Paper bag + rain = mess. It's not dangerous, you will just cry when your beautiful luminaria are a soggy mess.

Children: Use some common sense, don't put them where children are likely to mess with them. Watch your children. You can use luminaria if you would use candles. And watch your children and pets with the same care - open flame.

Clean-up - this is the part I love. Just pick it up, make sure the candle is out, and throw it away. If the candles are still buring, just pick up a little sand from the bottom of the bag and drop it onto the flame. You may decide you want to retrieve the glass votive cups. Or not, depending on how tired you are...or if you have other things to do after the party. What with the magic of the glow.

1 comment:

Deanna said...

I just love candles too! They just give everything a wonderful "glow" and if they are inside you don't notice my dust! Ha!

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