What has 40 tons of sand, singing teenagers and 100,000 candles?
Give up? I'll supply the answer in a moment.
First, let me say that I know the local holiday tradition of Luminaria Night from several perspectives.
I've driven and walked around Bethlehem on the night when the streets there — and increasingly, in other parts of the Lehigh Valley — are aglow with candles inside white bags. It's absolutely beautiful, and I encourage you to see it in person again this year on Saturday, Dec. 14.
I've met and talked with the women who started all this 16 years ago in a Bethlehem garage to raise money for a needy family and bring neighbors closer together, and I've touched base pretty much every year with the organizers who have helped it grow so dramatically, both geographically and in fundraising capacity. More than 90,000 luminarias were lit in 2012, and their goal this year is 100,000.
I've served lunch to and toured Christmas lights with some of the individuals and families served by New Bethany Ministries, Bethlehem, beneficiaries of this amazing event. Luminaria Night raised more than $83,000 for New Bethany last year and if it matches that this year, half a million dollars since New Bethany became the recipient.
For all the times I've written about this event in my column and blog, one part of the operation I've never witnessed was the amazing organized chaos of assembling all those bags of sand and candles, which takes place weeks before the big night.
I finally remedied that by visiting the Memorial Pool Building on Illick's Mill Road, Bethlehem, last week. What I found was the answer to my riddle.
I'll try to put you there. When I walked in the front door, the first thing I saw were several tables surrounded by Bethlehem high school students filling plastic bags with measured amounts of sand and then stacking them on shelves.
The 50-pound bags of sand had been delivered on pallets and carried inside by members of Lehigh University's Kappa Alpha fraternity. Event chairwoman Debbie Delgrosso told me it took the young men three hours to bring all the bags inside. She said they moved about 80,000 pounds of sand.
In adjoining rooms, other students were combining candles with white bags and assembling them in boxes of various sizes. Each kit — sold for $10 for the first and $5 for subsequent ones — holds 10 white bags, 10 candles and a plastic bag of sand.
This effort goes on in two-hour shifts for several nights over the course of almost two weeks. The 100 or so teens were joined in sand duty by volunteers from Just Born and Northampton Community College.
Volunteer coordinator Olga Conneen also mentioned that girls from Alpha Sigma Tau sorority at Moravian College will be folding 4,000 brochures to be handed out with the luminaria kits and that Northampton Community College's PALS Club helps put candles out on Luminaria Night at senior citizen facilities. This truly is a community project.
Over the course of three days in the week before Luminaria Night, the 320 block captains — overseen by another 40 regional captains — arrive at the pool building with their money and orders, and students help take the boxes out to their cars. The captains then deliver the kits to their neighbors.
Anyway, back to putting you in the pool building. If you think pouring tons of sand into little bags sounds tedious, think again. These kids were singing, laughing, tossing bags around and generally having a blast. Delgrosso told me, "It's very sandy in here by the end of the night."
As one table lit into "Let It Snow," Conneen observed dryly, "You can tell from these girls that they're having such a terrible time."
Freedom student Robert Anderson, son of one of the event's Founding Mothers, Joanne Anderson, told me he's been helping with this since he was a preschooler, first in his own garage and now at the pool house, where he helped recruit a bunch of his fellow Freedom High School band members. For him and his friends, this has become a tradition.
What's different from his adolescent days? "There's definitely more sand."
He talked about all the novel ways they've filled the sand bags and even about playing basketball with the candles. "It's definitely the most fun service we're into," he said.
If you want your neighborhood to participate in Luminaria Night, you still have a little more time. Canvass your neighbors and email email@example.com or call 610-865-3757 by early next week to let them know how many kits you need.
There's one more tradition I should mention. When the work finally is completed, Conneen said, at least one of those sand-handling kids tells her the same thing every year:
"I don't think I'll ever go to the beach again."
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.