There are beautiful blue and white snowflakes edging my front porch and the sides of the porch are glittering with icicles. The railing of my back deck is wound in brilliant glowing colors. We have Christmas lights! OK, so maybe this is no big deal for you. I’ve seen your house glowing from the interstate with a Santa on the roof and holiday greetings superimposed on your garage door, but for me this is big.
I love holiday lights. Love them. For many years my husband has just shrugged his shoulders and mumbled something unintelligible before slinking away every time I suggested a single strand. When confronted, he has always protested that he has nothing against Christmas lights. I’ve pointed out all the perfect pine trees growing near our house that would look spectacular in lights. And every year, the lights I helpfully lug up from the basement sit in their plastic bin collecting dust until after the holiday when I’ll lug them back downstairs. Some years I’ve compensated by decorating our stair railing in lights and sometimes even the kitchen doorway. It’s festive, but it’s not the same.
This Thanksgiving my little brother arrived with pictures of his over-the-top already decorated house in North Carolina. I loved it and oohed and ahhed and then teased my husband about the fact that he doesn’t like lights. He did his whole indifferent schtick and avoided the subject. But then my little brother asked me why I didn’t just put up the lights myself. Huh? I told him I didn’t think I could figure out how to attach the lights to the gutter without damaging the house (and causing my hubby to say, “see….this is why I don’t like the lights”). But then my brother told me about these nifty little plastic things you could buy at Walmart that made it really simple. And as much as I’m opposed to all things Walmart and all things small and plastic that will end up in the Great Garbage Patch, I found myself toting home a box of 300 clips for just 5 bucks.
But here’s the dilemma for those of us who worry about the earth and our electric bill. How can I in good conscience hook up my 15-year-old energy-hogging lights that date back to the days before I married Scrooge? Back to the store I went to get LED lights – snowflakes and icicles even! The boxes sat on the counter and garnered many reactions. The kids were thrilled – we’re gonna have lights!?! My guilt nagged at me – how could you buy that cheap, plastic crap that will just use up energy needlessly? And my husband pointedly ignored them.
When I finally mentioned to my hubby that I was going to put up the lights myself with my nifty plastic hooks, he caved. In his best scrooge voice, he said we could do it together. I told him I’d only hang lights with him if he hummed Christmas carols while we worked. Finally, a chuckle from ole’ Scrooge. And that is how we came to have lights all around our house.
If I try I can get myself in a tizzy about the lights. We don’t need them. They serve no purpose. They are wasteful. What if they set my house on fire? I spent money on new ones because they were more energy efficient, but now the old ones are just sitting in my basement. So while those lights may be more green, just how green are they if they’ve added to the excess in my life and the world? See, I’m good at tying my head and heart in knots.
But here’s the thing. (And I gave a similar rant last year about why I love Christmas letters) The holidays mean something. And the lights are part of that. There’s the deep spiritual meaning this time of year for people of several different religions – that’s pretty big. But there is also this collective time of giving. Everybody is more generous in December. And even if they are motivated by guilt or habit or obligation – the end result is that people are generous. They are gentler with each other. They gather for holiday meals in restaurants and churches and conference rooms. They smile more, shake hands, give hugs, cards, gifts, cookies, and wishes. Perfectly normal and professional people wear ugly sweaters and jingle bells. They get a day or two off work. Sure it’s a shame that it doesn’t last all year – there are plenty of cards and sermons lamenting that fact, but for a little while it’s here. And I’ll take it.
So I love the lights and the music and the excuse to shower the people I care about with my baking, my gifts, my affection. It’s a chance to send cards to all the people I know and gifts to the niece and nephews that are scattered across the country. It is a lot of work. But it only happens once a year. And I’m willing to stress about the lights and fight the traffic and crowds and fall in to bed exhausted after making too many truffles, because the pay off is huge – happy people. A chance to remember that we are incredibly blessed.
And my scrooge? He’s softening. I came home to find Christmas lights hung like garland around our bedroom. This time of year is magical. Embrace it.