Grand Junction neighborhood lights the way

Beth McKee lights luminarias on Carlitos Avenue in Mantey Heights on Christmas Eve. McKee is one of many people who live in Mantey Heights to light the luminarias.

With the sun gone and the streetlights off, the glow of luminarias and moonlight bouncing off freshly fallen snow were all that illuminated the north Grand Junction neighborhood of Mantey Heights after dusk on Christmas Eve.

It’s a tradition that turned 50 this year in Mantey Heights: neighbors lining their homes with luminarias, or paper bags filled with sand and candles. The tradition began with Nancy Taylor, who witnessed the beauty of candle-lit luminarias during Christmas time in Santa Fe, N.M. She thought they would pair well with her southwest-style home in Mantey Heights, according to Diane Lucero, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband, Gary.

The whole neighborhood got on board and soon every home had luminarias on Christmas Eve. Neighbor Janet Grant, who helps organize the event by ordering bags on behalf of the neighborhood’s 48 houses, said each household places between 60 and 120 luminarias outside every Dec. 24. If someone can’t or won’t participate, other neighbors help fill up the bare spots with their own luminarias on others’ property.

“Nobody has complained yet about that,” Diane Lucero said.

The Christmas Eve tradition brings the neighborhood closer together, according to Grant. She said one neighbor collects piles of sand for the luminarias, so people haul their wheelbarrows over to pick up what they need.
Grant and neighbor Karen Milbank order and get bags to everyone by early December. When the city of Grand Junction threatened a few years ago to stop having Xcel shut off the neighborhood’s street lights for the holiday so the luminarias could shine extra bright, Grant said the neighbors presented a united front and convinced the city to keep turning out the lights each Christmas Eve. Neighbors new and old get to know each other better by conversing while they set up their luminarias and some have food or drinks on hand.

“We know everyone in the neighborhood, which is rare these days,” Grant said.

Grant said she used to drive through Mantey Heights before she lived there on her way to a graveyard shift each Christmas Eve at St. Mary’s Hospital. She would drive back through the neighborhood at the end of her shift just before dawn and find each light still lit.

People from all over town do the same each year with their car lights off and their cameras ready to capture the string of glowing luminarias. In addition to lighting the way for revelers, luminarias are traditionally meant in some cultures to light the way for Christ on Christmas.

“For me, that’s very important,” Lucero said. “I’m excited to have the privilege and honor of doing that.”


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