How to Make Ice Luminaries
By Marcia Passos Duffy

I first saw ice luminaries gracing the steps of a local church several years ago.  
There were six of them, three on either side of the steps, lit up with simple white
candles that were set inside the ice votive-style.  Shimmering and unadorned,
these luminaries were pure enchantment.   

I managed to track down the woman who made them; her “recipe” for
was amazingly simple -- just requiring time, some patience, and
below-freezing temperatures.

Creating ice luminaries for holidays can be tricky even in the Northeast because
in December freezing temperatures are sometimes followed by a warming spell.  
If this happens, you may want to save your work by placing your luminaries on
the north side of your house (or where the snow melts last in the spring time)
until the temperature drops again.  

In any case, your reward on Christmas will be well worth your efforts.  And, you
can save them to light up your New Year’s Eve.


What you will need:

5-7 five-gallon buckets (can be any shape) with handles.

Empty coffee cans or soup cans (remove any labels)

Small rocks


Allow 2-3 days to freeze the buckets twice.

1.   Start with a bucket
(around 1-5 gallons).
Plan to make more
than one ice luminary –
they look best in
groupings.  Fill buckets
half-way up with water
and place outside
overnight.  If it snows
or rains you can cover the buckets with a tarp.

2.  Once frozen solid take a can and fill with rocks.  Place in the center of the
frozen water in the bucket. Take a watering can and fill the bucket with water
again up to the rim of the can.  Try not to get water into the can with the rocks.
Position can in the center again, if needed.

3.  Allow to freeze again (preferably overnight when the temperatures are

4.  When top layer is frozen solid, bring bucket inside for about 5-10 minutes (the
ice will melt from the outside in).  Add warm water into the can with rocks and
remove the can when it becomes loose.  Take the bucket outside and turn upside
down to remove the luminary.

5.  Add a candle in the center indentation.

Make sure you brush off the snow (if you get snow), and spray the luminaries
with water to get the ice back to its clear state.

Here are some variations you may want to try:

You can make the water any color you wish by adding food coloring – even
making the water two different colors during the top and bottom layer process –
be creative!

You can add glitter during either the first or second freezing.

During the first freezing, add objects that will float to the top – such as
cranberries, pine needles, orange slices or pine cones.  They will solidify at the
top and when you add water in the second step will be frozen in the center of the

Or you can add items that will sink during the second freezing step, such as
marbles, shells or colorful stones.  They will sink to the bottom and solidify
there, again, freezing in the center of the luminary.

Lastly, don’t forget to add candles and light them on Christmas or New Year’s

About the author: Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelance writer based in Keene, NH.  She is
also the publisher of The Heart of New England online magazine.
Ice Luminaries
How to make ice luminaries
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