The winter night is long, dark, and cold- but into that gloom blazes the bright, twinkling sight of Christmas lights. Christmas lights! On the roofs and porches, on the trees and bushes, on the lawns and light posts. The night is suddenly all aglow.
My love affair with Christmas lights runs deep. As a child, I was mesmerized by those colorful bubble lights on our family Christmas tree. I would lie under the tree, gazing through the pungent, green boughs to the magic of the liquid-filled vials.
Fast forward to parenthood.
When our kids were small, we’d all tumble into the minivan, our big, red Plymouth Voyager, the two sets of grandparents, the kids, and us, for a drive through our neighborhood to view the Christmas lights. Oh, those memories!
My Mom in her big fur coat, my Dad’s cigarette smoke filling the air, a jumble of kid’s fluffy hats and mittens, we’d slide by the household displays to utterances of “ohh” and “ahh”!
Even our cat loved Christmas lights. In the last year of her life, Samantha perked up when she curled around the trunk of our tree, sipping the sappy water and gazing at the glittery expanse above her.
Does it seem like there are more Christmas lights this year? Indeed, Christmas light sales are up 238%. According to the New York Post, a deadly pandemic, civil unrest, and a nasty election period have people feeling that the Grinch stole 2020, and are turning to Christmas decorations to “make 2020 suck less.”
And with holiday celebrations of all kinds cancelled- those ubiquitous Christmas plays and concerts, the joyous parties, ornament and cookie exchanges, and even a cap placed on family gatherings, folks have turned to the one thing they can control- turning on the Christmas lights.
The tradition of Christmas lights dates back to Germany, when Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with candles, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12
The use of those lit candles on trees proved so dangerous and often tragic that it was a good thing when Thomas Edison, in Christmas 1880, strung the first strand of electric lights around the outside of his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It took many decades, but eventually electric Christmas lights were seen in communities across the nation.
Today, Christmas lights have gone high- tech, with laser lights, digital projections, and LED light shows.
But probably the most famous use of Christmas lights is on the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in Manhattan, boasting the use of 50,000 LED lights. It’s been a New York tradition since 1933, except for 1944-45, when the tree went unlit due to wartime blackout regulations.
Speaking of regulations, in typical 2020 fashion, the annual tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center was virtual. So for my money, the saving grace of this year’s event was the discovery of a little northern saw-wet owl wrapped in the branches of the tree, newly delivered in November. The feathered stowaway was brought to a vet for rehab, then released back into the wild. “Rocky”, as she was named, is hopefully soaring above the vast New York state terrain as we speak.
On a brighter note, festivals of light are still available to the public even under COVID regulations. One can stroll, masked, through the dazzling expanses of light at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, in Rocky Ridge Park in York, and in locales nationwide.
But some communities have had to get creative with their light displays. In lieu of their annual Christmas parade, the residents of St. Michael’s, Maryland, took their celebration to the water, sailing their decorated sailboats, yacht, and skiffs in a glittery display on the Miles River.
This year, my husband and I, just the two of us, will probably hop into the car and tour around our local community, viewing the Christmas lights, some of them playful and silly, some simple and elegant, but all aglow. And maybe we will seek to dispel some of the darkness of this abysmal year.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5