Christmas Eve in New Mexico

Farolitos or Luminarias

Guest Author Nancy Gerlach

Christmas Eve in New Mexico is a very special night steeped in tradition and probably no other image symbolizes the season more than the flickering lights from the brown paper bags called luminarias or farolitos, that line the walkways and outline buildings and houses throughout the state. They are only lit on December 24th and in many areas, such as the Old Town area here in Albuquerque, electric lights are turned off, motorized traffic is restricted, and people bundle up and stroll the areas and let the luminarias weave their spell.  Read the entire story here.


Although history doesn’t reveal the origin of these cookies, it’s believed that they were created by the descendants of the early Spanish settlers in New Mexico. Traditionally they are served at the holiday season and can be found gracing tables after the lighting of the luminaries on Christmas Eve. They are so popular that they have been declared the Official State Cookie. New Mexico is probably the only state that has one! These flaky cookies with a hint of anise must be prepared with lard for the traditional taste, although shortening can be substituted.

3/4 cups sugar

8 ounces vegetable shortening or lard

1 egg

1.5 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon anise seed

3 cups flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Sugar:

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

To make the cinnamon sugar, combine the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and shortening together. Add the eggs, vanilla, and anise seed, and continue beating until the mixture is creamy.

In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, a little at a time, and beat to mix well after each addition. Continue until all the flour has been incorporated and a stiff, smooth dough. Do not refrigerate as the dough needs to be warm to hold together.

To roll out the cookies, place a ball of dough about 3 or 4-inches in diameter on a lightly floured surface. Roll out using a very light stroke with a rolling pin. The dough should resemble pie pastry more than cookie dough.

Using a sharp knife or cookie cutter, cut the dough into the desired shape. Dust with the cinnamon sugar and place on a lightly oiled baking pan.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, remove, and cool the cookies on a rack.

Yield: 3 to 4 dozen, depending on the shape

AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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