Espanola Farolito Project Instructions and notes

By Dennis O’Brien Chairman 1985 - 1988

Farolito Project Basics

History: The Farolito project was started in the late 60’s by Richard Lucero and the Explorer Clubs to light a candle for the soldiers fighting in the Vietnam war. It was put on by the boys and girls that participated in the Explorer organizations. It ended with the end of the Vietnam war and when Richard left the Explorer program. As a note: Richard had also put this project on during his college years at UNM. It became a successful project and tradition at UNM.

In 1983 the community of Espanola was in such a strange and socially depressed condition and while I was driving back from a training in Phoenix I was getting the spirit of Christmas as I drove through all the different communities along the way. As I drove into Espanola I was shocked by the fact that our community had no Christmas spirit. The usual ornaments that adorned the light poles were not up and even some of the store fronts had very minor ornaments or window displays. This got me a bit pissed off and I decided to bring back the project.

As I went around getting the history and instructions I was filled with such amazement and it was dedicated to the VETS again!

Many lessons were learned as there were no written instructions. No Guides and too many years of memory in between. So some things that were offered tended to be wrong. What amazed me is that such a simple thing could hold so many simple but important tricks that would either create nightmare problems or a beautiful presentation.

It was a great project that brought many groups together, while bringing pride to the community. After the first project I received two different letters… one through the Chamber and one from a local priest. Two Suicides had been averted because of the beauty of the project.

Main lessons learned:

  • Bags must be of a certain quality and manufacture or the glue at the bottom will not hold.
  • Sand Must be heat dried or when filling the bags the moisture will unglue the bottoms and the sand will fall out when trying to place them.
  • The bag must be filled at least 1/3 to ½ of the bag. Too little and the bag will not stay and too much and it will tear out the bottom. The ideal amount is so that the candle can be easily pushed into the sand.
  • The bags must be folded 2x times at the top or it will not stay open when you go to light it.
  • The thing that works best to light the candles is FLARES! Using a flare you must hold it down straight into the bag and on top of the candle. This will light the wick and also melt a bit of the wax so that it stays lit.
  • The candles must be pushed into the sand. This creates a bowl that holds the wax and will keep the candle going for many more hours.
  • Make sure that the City is on board and supportive as the night of the lighting it will be a huge undertaking and traffic is congested.
  • Jemez electric has some strange rules as to the times they can have the lights off and when they will go back on. So coordination needs to be tight or the lights will not be off or they will be turned on too soon.
  • DON’T put the bags out too early!   They will be run over and or stolen! This happened so many times….   Sections of the bags on the streets would be missing or just run over.
  • City must adopt the project. Too many issues not to have them on board.
  • Work in teams.   One person driving… ONE person dropping or placing the bag. One insuring that it is opened and inserting the candle and one lighting it.   Then one insuring they stay lit!   Cars driving too fast. The bags placed to close to the road and any breeze can turn them off!
  • START EARLY the project should start just after Halloween to insure groups are on board to do the selected areas and so that fund raising can take place.

Volunteers: As many civic groups as possible are needed. Getting a civic group to take on a section was the key to a successful event. Last event we had 300 people working it… even the Santa Fe VFW sent a crew.   Having bag folding parties is a way of making it fun. The senior center can help with giving bags to get folded. They don’t do them fast but are always willing to help. Make sure they know the sequence of steps and that they don’t try go out of sequence. It will give you spots of unlit bags or sections where the candles turn off too soon.

Bags: The bags that worked best are the good old lunch type brown bags. Avoid the waxier thinner bags… they just don’t work. Last workable display was a total of about 30,000…   we folded about 40,000 bags to insure enough were available.

They must be folded on top to make the upper rim sturdy so that they stay open on top. If a breeze hits them they can close at the top and then burn or turn out the candle.

They should be filled during the day of the drop so that the bottoms don’t get moist from the sand. (even if dry sand is used it is still a bit moist)

Sand: Sand MUST, MUST, MUST be oven dried. Espanola Transit Mix has a way of drying the sand. Failure to do so will insure a disaster. The bags should also be filled a close to the display as possible. If you fill them with moist sand or too far in advance you will only have a disaster as the bags will fall apart when you lift them into the delivery vehicle or try to place them!

Candles: The best candle is a 15 hour votive. The wax and wick are the best and will last the longest under the conditions of the project.

When placing the candle in the bag. 1: Insure it has a wick! 2: Lift the wick so that it is not under any wax. 3: push the candle into the sand so that it is in a sand bowl and insure it is in the middle of the bag.

KEEP them in a safe place and don’t give the out until just before the lighting. Unfortunately they disappear.

Placement of bag should be as far from the curb WHERE possible. This will keep them from being run over and from being turned off by passing car wind.

Lighting should begin at about 6:30 or so and not any earlier. And you should have a monitor to insure bad candles are replaced and turn offs are re-lit.

Lighting: Lighting is best done with a flare. The flare is hot enough to melt the wax around the wick and insure the wick actually lights. NO OTHER FORM OF LIGHTING WORKED FAST ENOUGH TO GET THE PROJECT LIGHTED. Matches turn off before you get to the candle. Small lighter burn your fingers and even the small lighters with the long tube don’t melt the wax enough to keep the wick lite! SO AGAIN, ONLY FLARES WORK WELL!

The trouble with flares is that if the bag is not open enough you can burn the bag quickly if you don’t handle the flare in a straight down motion to light the candle.

Luminarias: Wood needs to be stacked and prepared early in the day and should be lite LAST. The wood piles were best situated in the middle of the islands and 2 max per island. Except at the Y where we had one at each corner and then a large one in the middle. After the stacks are done. Wait until about ½ hour or so before you douse them with kerosene to help insure they light. WOOD SHOULD BE DRY. Approximate need for wood 20 cords.

City of Espanola: City permits and ok’s need to be in place EARLY. They must also send a request to Jemez Electric to turn off the street lights in the areas where bags are at. Jemez will not do so unless you get City to request. Coordinate with the city to do the clean up after.

Jemez Electric: Best if lights are kept off until after Midnight Church Services! But this has always been a fight with them.

Street Signs: Traffic into the city from the different streets NEEDS TO BE ALERTED TO SLOW DOWN DIM THEIR LIGHTS AND ENJOY THE SHOW!   Signs need to made with a Reflective material so that they can be seen. If possible at the entrances to the city if patrol cars with flashing lights can be located and urged to slow down it will add to be beauty and effect.

Materials sources:    Bags were provided by Pete Chelo for the first 2 projects. Candles were purchased through Country Farm supply sources and stored there until we needed them.

Clean up: Clean up is easy! But most volunteers that placed the bags will not go back to pick them up! If the bag is lifted and given a quick jerk the bottom usually falls apart and the sand drops.