History of the Nights of Light

History of the Nights of Light

The longest running tradition at the Desert Botanical Garden is Las Noches de las Luminarias (Luminaria). On a cold December night in 1978, volunteers and staff worked to light 700 lights and welcome 600 guests to a one-night experience in the park. The idea for Luminaria came from the CEO at the time, Rodney Engard, in collaboration with staff and volunteers. Engard wanted to create a holiday event that represented the Southwest and complemented the beauty of the park, and that was a gift to the community.

Republic of A to Z1978

“Knowing Rodney and his way of thinking, Luminaria was brought to the garden as a truly special evening to share with the entire community. He knew that Luminaria was a Southwestern tradition, and could also be considered a tribute to plants,” says Wendy Hodgson, senior research scientist in botany, curator of the herbarium, and one of the only current employees. Who attended the first Luminaria: “Community, plants and showing gratitude were the cornerstones of what Rodney was trying to celebrate.”

Luminarias are created using a brown paper bag, sand, and a candle. At the first Luminaria, volunteers and staff spent hundreds of hours folding bags, filling them with sand and placing them around the park. At the last minute, before the guests arrived, all 700 lights were lit by hand. As visitors made their way through the dimly lit park, cookies and hot cocoa were distributed. The evening proved such a success, that it was expanded for two nights, the addition of illumination to the plants and people of the Sonoran Desert Trail, and the inclusion of music the following year.

Luminaria paper bags in 1978

Republic of A to Z1978

Luminaria has continued to grow and always improve with each year. Some entertaining highlights and interesting facts include:

  • Mariachi music was introduced in 1979.
  • 8,400 cakes were baked for Luminaria in 1986.
  • In 1987, staff and volunteers began folding bags in the summer months, and full meals were served for the first time.
  • Six tons of sand were used to fill Luminaria bags for 12 nights in 2003.
  • Innovation reached an all-time high in 2005 when a butane gas lighter was created using plastic pipes and butane torches. This lighter allows candles to be lit faster without the hassle of bending over. Additionally, a turkey scoop, plastic tubing and a wooden dowel are put together to create a candle snuffer.
  • In 2006, synthetic luminaria bags were introduced. These bags are more fire resistant, hold up better in wind and rain and provide a beautiful glow. It is also reusable every year.
  • It takes two months and 16 miles of twinkling lights to cover all the trees in the park.
  • Every night, staff and volunteers take an hour and a half to turn on all the lights in the park.

Many of the same traditions still hold true more than 40 years later. Luminarias are placed, lit and extinguished by the hands of staff and volunteers. New traditions have been added, such as twinkling lights on trees throughout the park. Adding more nights, stars, and entertainment to the Luminaria celebration helps the park enhance its longest-lasting tradition each year.

Enjoy Valley holiday traditions in the park on select nights from November 24 to December 30.

Member tickets go on sale October 2, and general tickets go on sale October 16. View the entertainment ticket selection and purchase them here.

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