Time has gotten away from me again. I do realize that we’re half-way through January already, and I’m still remarking about the Christmas/New Year’s transition, but such is life! What is important to me is to mark these significant points and to move on from there, so here we go…
One such marker of time and it’s passing is a yearly practice that we keep at the home of my in-laws every Christmas, or just after. My mother-in-law calls it our “Farolito Walk.” Farolitos (Spanish for little lanterns) are what northern New Mexicans call the lanterns made by putting a candle in a brown paper bag with enough sand or dirt to keep the candle upright and the bag on the ground. At Christmastime farolitos can be seen all over New Mexico, and even the fancy hotels and casinos have a commercial plastic version of the little bags outlining the rooftops in the dark. The home-made farolitos are usually put out on Christmas Eve or Christmas night to line walkways and driveways, roads and rooftops, and I believe are meant to symbolize lighting the way for Mary and Joseph to the Inn. We saw many of these lanterns as we drove home on Christmas Eve, brave rectangles of orange-ish light in the dark, beautiful way-markers and signs leading to doorways and shelters in the night.
Our Farolito Walk was to be on Christmas night when all of the extended family was gathered. My kids are old enough to remember this walk tradition from previous years and look forward to it now as part of “what we do at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” Even the youngest eagerly helped fill the brown bags with sand ahead of time, and uncles and cousins set out the candles in the lanterns to prepare the way. The lanterns were placed at intervals along a gravel path between the front and back doors of the grandparent’s house, candles lit, just at dusk. When the sky was completely dark, and when the time was right, grandma brought us all together and we bundled up to go out into the night. Before going outside all of the inside lights were extinguished, except for candles left burning to light our way through the house.
Before we start our Farolito Walk, grandma reminds us all that we will walk in silence, out the back door of the house, between the candles, along the path, around the house to the front door. We may then enter through the front door of the house, and if we wish, walk the circle again. The idea is to let the old year go–and all of its happenings–and open ourselves to the new year and what it will bring– in the walking, and the light in the darkness, and in our hearts and minds.
So here’s the mystery–how is it that this simple act of walking the outside/inside circle, plus the personal prayer or mediation, with loved ones before and behind us–is a such a quietly powerful act? Those few minutes, perhaps more than anything else, have helped me take a deep breath, wipe the slate clean, and face new beginnings and the year of life that is ahead. Just as these simple candle-in-a-bag lanterns become glowing beacons in the night, so it seems to me that our ordinary paperbag selves can be transformed, if we make the space and time for that kind of transformation.
And with these things in mind, on into the front door of the new year!