Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
December 25th, 2014
Episode 56 of 689 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 25, 2014 is: luminaria \loo-muh-NAIR-ee-uh\ noun : a traditional Mexican Christmas lantern originally consisting of a candle set in sand inside a paper bag Examples: Luminarias lined the streets throughout the neighborhood for the annual Christmas Stroll. "The luminaria will light up the night around Olean on Dec. 21, the longest night of the year, in honor of the homeless." Kate Day Sager, Olean (New York) Times Herald, November 17, 2014 Did you know? Luminaria is a fairly recent addition to English; the earliest known use in our language dates from 1949, about the time that the old Mexican Christmas custom was gaining popularity among Anglo-Americans. In some parts of the U.S., particularly New Mexico, these festive lanterns are also called farolitos, which means "little lanterns" in Spanish. We borrowed luminaria from Spanish, but the word has been around with exactly the same spelling since the days of Late Latin. The term ultimately traces to the classical Latin luminare, meaning "window," and to lumen, meaning "light." It is related to other light-bearing words such as luminary, illuminate, and phillumenist (a fancy name for someone who collects matchbooks).