Perhaps the fading year has not been a bright one; all the more reason to count our blessings and share a glimmer with those around us.
It begins every October. Some dim Sunday afternoon I climb up and poke my head into the storage space over my garage. Brushing away cobwebs, I totter backward down the ladder four times. Four boxes of lights are brought in and spread about my living room floor and sorted into piles. Each strand is unwound, smoothed, and plugged in. Regardless of my care in packing, there are always a few bulbs that won’t light and at least one strand that is inexplicably and disappointingly dead. Once all is operational, I begin my plan.
November is the month for setting up the house and yard. As young marrieds, my husband and I started a tradition of hanging the outdoor lights the day after Thanksgiving. It took a few miserable years for us to realize that it always seems to be pouring rain that day, so we moved the project to those clear fall days that smell of leaves and apples. By mid-November all is ready.
Then I hold back. I think about turkey and pie. I wait until the last feast-day dish has been washed and put away. Then it begins: we turn on the music, switch on the lights, and it’s Christmas at the Case house.
Truthfully, this started very early. I grew up on a farm in a close and fun-loving family. When I was small, our simple country Christmas almost overwhelmed me with excitement. Not content with our traditional tree, I taped a string of lights in our window that overlooked dark, empty fields. Perhaps very few people ever noticed them, but somehow, I just had to shine my holiday joy out into the world.
Teenagers look around and see that life is not all brightness; their dreams are sometimes broken by reality. Some nights seemed long and dark as my family built a new house together. We had no time or place for a tree, and our cherished German ornaments had been broken in the move. But I had found a particularly shapely branch in our woods. I cut it and placed it in our window, wrapped with so many lights it could be seen from across our valley. Subsequent Christmases featured spruce trees from the nursery stock we grew, with needles so sharp they sometimes drew blood as I wrapped the branches with lights. That didn’t dissuade me a bit, and every year our lights shone across the valley.
Raising our son in the country, my husband and I greeted the holidays with lights on the house, lights in the gardens, and four Christmas trees of varying sizes inside the house. Living alone at my little place in town, the display is simpler but just as bright; my son refers to my home as “the light pollution center” of the neighborhood. No one ever complains, though; I think we all look for a bit of a glow as winter creeps in.
As the year declines and we process its light and shadow, we gather with our families and friends. It’s a time to bless others, a time to be grateful for what we’ve been given and for the light that brought goodwill to humanity. Perhaps the fading year has not been a bright one; all the more reason to count our blessings and share a glimmer with those around us. From the night of Thanksgiving, until the year is new, I will shine my holiday cheer into my neighborhood.
And perhaps, after all, I haven’t come so very far from the little farm girl taping a string of lights inside the window to share her joy with the world, even if no one may ever notice it.