How to Make Holiday Luminaries

row of luminaries
  • 2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 30-50
What You'll Need
Votive candles
White paper lunch bags
Sand or animal litter
Extended handle lighter
What You'll Need
Votive candles
White paper lunch bags
Sand or animal litter
Extended handle lighter

Luminaries are a classic holiday decoration and a beautiful addition to the exterior of any home. Line your sidewalk or driveway with luminaries to welcome guests for your holiday feast, or set them out the evening before Christmas or New Year’s Day. If you’re lucky enough to have a white Christmas, you’ll see that the luminaries are most beautiful when they shine their light through the snow.

The only thing more attractive than a finished lantern, is how unbelievably simple they are to make. Chances are you already have everything you'll need in your home at this very moment.

Step 1 - Pick a Spot

Decide where you're going to place your luminaries and measure the area. This will give you an idea of how many lanterns you'll actually need to make. There's no need to make dozens if all you're aiming to light up is a small porch or a window sill.

If you plan on arranging them in a close, tight grouping, place the lanterns 1 foot apart. For wider luminary formations, place them 2 feet apart from each other.

Step 2 - Prep the Bags

Unfold and expand the bags. Fold the openings over about 1 inch so that each bag will be more stable. If you're planning on debuting these luminaries on a night with low wind, you can take more liberties, as the risk of fire is lower.

You can also use different colored bags as opposed to simple white. Just make sure the material is not so opaque that it will block out the light of the candle when everything is said and done.

Cut holes in the bag, or stencil on designs and shapes to cut out. These will cast interesting shadows, but again, be aware that any openings expose the flame to open air and increase the risk of the lantern blowing over or the candle being snuffed out.

Step 3 - Weight Them With Sand

Fill each bag with 2 inches of sand. Assuming that your paper bags are roughly the size of a common lunch bag, filling them to that level should take about 2 cups of sand. If you don’t have any sand on hand, you can use kitty litter, but be aware that kitty litter is usually lighter than sand so you need to adjust your measurements to 3 inches or 3 cups.

  • Warning: Adding the sand or kitty litter is vital. It keeps the luminary from blowing over and safeguards against fire. If you don't have these supplies but really want to keep working, just use any material that can discreetly weigh down the lanterns without catching fire in close proximity to the flame.

Step 4 - Arrange Them in Place

Place the bags outside where you would like them. Do this before adding the candles to the bags. If you place the candles in ahead of time, the mere act of carrying the lanterns from your work space to the outdoors can jostle the candle and bury the wick in sand.

Step 5 - Add and Light Candles

When the sun goes down, nestle a candle into the bed of sand at the bottom of each bag. With the long lighter, light the candle. If you don’t have a long lighter, light the candles before placing them in the bags.

If there are concerns about snow or rain while outside, wrap the base of each one in a plastic bag to shield your candles and lantern from moisture.

Because the paper bags are flammable, place your candles deliberately and light them carefully to avoid igniting the lantern's exterior.

Step 6 - Extinguish When Done

Remember to blow out the candles before you turn in for the night. Your luminaries should not be left unattended, as you've essentially created a row and/or ring of fire on your property. Pick up the bags when you're through using them. If the bag is damp, carefully pick up the bag. You don’t want the bottom to fall out and sand to get all over.

Depending on how well your luminaries held up, you can save and reuse them for your next romantic evening. These little white glowing orbs also make great ghost decorations during the Halloween season.

If you love the idea of having these for many occasions to come, consider a material sturdier than paper. Recycled metal cans, jars, or even a transparent old milk jug can all house candles to make unique luminaries.

>> Need other holiday decorating ideas? Think beyond the poinsettia!