Lights have long been associated with the holiday season, along with family, holiday cheer, and guiltlessly indulging in your sweet tooth.
At Grafton Lakes State Park in Rensselaer County, staff chose to embrace that season of light by placing dozens of luminaria along trails for the park’s inaugural annual holiday “Luminary Walk” in December. What are luminaria, one might ask? ( Hint: It is not the plural of luminary.)
Originating in the Philippines after it became a Spanish colony at the beginning of the 16th century, luminaria are small paper lanterns with candles used to mark the Christmas season. Originally made then from bamboo and paper coming from China, the Philippine tradition of luminaria was brought eastward by Spanish traders into the southwestern North America and Mexico when that region was still controlled by Spain.
Today, holiday luminaria as a reflection of a holiday contribution of Hispanic culture are a common sight in the southwestern United States, including New Mexico and Arizona, but have become popular in other parts of the country as well.
To bring that festive glow into the northern forests at Grafton, parks staff led by Tamara Beal arranged for more than 125 luminaria for the festival, while also seeing to it that firewood was stacked, marshmallows were prepped on sticks, and hot coco was steaming by the jugful.
Each light was powered by three triple AAA batteries and each white paper bag required a precisely cut wooden block to weigh down the bag. The maintenance staff cut the blocks and strung lights along the boardwalk for the event. All 125 bags with lights and blocks were put together, loaded up into a utility vehicle and spaced out along a half-mile of trail by staffers Rebecca Milanese and Ava Bassallo.
Check out the slideshow of the luminaria trail below…
Under crystal dark skies and the light of a full moon in December, an unprecedented 900 people showed up for the event and to walk the illuminated paths.
With Holiday music wafting from the Welcome Center back patio, there was a general buzz of happiness and joy. Visitors warmed up by the fire with marshmallow and stick in hand, creating a tasty treat. Children sat down inside stimulating their imaginations to create one-of-kind holiday crafts. Behind the scenes, volunteers and staff members were serving the public, refilling the hot chocolate jug, breaking up pieces of chocolate, restocking the crafts, and more.
The magical illuminated journey began on the boardwalk just beyond the back patio. As the Holiday music faded, a serene silence welcomed the wanderer. Each step in the light a reminder of fond Holiday memories. Up the stairs of the replica fire tower, with a bird’s eye view, the forest twinkled in brilliance. Just beyond the forest, romance rolled on the wind by the lake as many couples opted for a moonlit stroll.
What was originally foreseen by event coordinator, Tamara Beal, as being a small quaint event, left hundreds of people renewed in their holiday cheer in a park dotted with dozens of warm points of light. Thank you to all those who came out and to staff members and volunteers who dedicated their time and contributed to the magic.
Cover shot – Replica Fire Tower with luminaria at Grafton Lakes State Park. All photos by NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
Post by Tamara Beal, Environmental Educator, Grafton Lakes State Park
Check out future events at Grafton Lakes State Parks here.
Interested in attending an upcoming luminaria walk? There is one scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 24, 2021 at Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County. Click here for more details.