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Christmas tradition lights up Riverview

BRADENTON — The Christmas tree was up, the house gaily decorated.

There was only one task left for Eileen and Buster Griffith.

Prepare 100 luminarias to place along their stretch of Riverview Boulevard.

They’ve done it since 1964, linking up with neighbors who’ve followed their example, putting out hundreds of their own luminarias along the distinctive palm tree-lined road, as well as their own driveways and pathways.

“It creates a feeling you don’t have any other time of year,” Eileen Griffith said.

The luminarias — weighted paper bags containing lighted candles — will be lined up this evening and taken up Christmas Day.

“People enjoy it,” neighbor Margaret Christopher said. “It’s something that gets us all together and teaches kids what Christmas is all about.”

The Griffiths happened to be visiting Carlsbad, N.M. 45 years ago where they learned about the tradition of luminarias.

According to New Mexico Magazine, luminarias in the U.S. began in the early days of Spanish colonization of the southwest during the 1500s and 1600s. Little fires were lighted Christmas Eve along the route of the procession to the village church for midnight Mass, and were placed on pathways in front of homes so the Christ child could find his way.

“We thought, wouldn’t it be great to do the same thing here on the boulevard?” Eileen Griffith said. “So we came home, had a big picnic, invited everybody, gave them a paper bag, a candle and explained the idea.”

A tradition was started.

The Griffiths figure they’ve put out as many as 700 luminarias some years.

“We put them on the wall and the sidewalk and one year when the kids were home, we put luminarias on the roof,” Eileen Griffith said.

Khris Denyes grew up in Bradenton and remembers going along the boulevard as a child to see the Christmas lights and luminarias.

Now she and her family live on Riverview and participate in the Christmas custom.

“It gets you in the spirit, people coming together,” Denyes said. “It’s a nice feeling, people driving by, honking their horns, people on hayrides singing carols. It brings the community to your door.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fl. 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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