The first Christmas season I was a single-parent, I went to bed one night and found strings of Christmas lights crisscrossing themselves from the headboard to the footboard. It was as if a giant Christmas spider had woven its web across the bed. I had to lie on my back and slide across the mattress in order to go to sleep. I didn’t keep the lights on while I slept, but I did sleep under them for several nights. My youngest son, only five at the time, already knew how important those lights were to me. I’ve made him promise that when I’m old and decrepit and he and his siblings confine me to a nursing home, he will string Christmas lights in my room. He is to ignore any policies that forbid them due to fire or other safety hazards.
I’ve always loved Christmas lights. Like many, I remember riding in the car when I was younger, looking at decorated houses. Of course back then, decorated houses consisted mostly of lights strung along roof lines and maybe on a bush or two. But they were enough to turn winter nights into magic. My children inherited the gene from me and their paternal Grandma Jane, who loved Christmas lights too. My older son and daughter-in-law’s home is one people drive by for children to oooh and aaah over.
Why are Christmas lights special? Part of it for me is their soft glow. Even though I have enough in each room that I can read and write by them – without turning on any other lights – their brilliance is soft. It quiets and takes the edge off the day. The lights remind me of tiny stars against a dark sky. All those things are comforting to me.
Another part, I’m blessed to not suffer from seasonal affective disorder – the condition many people suffer from when sunlight is diminished. I like the shorter days and longer nights. But even so, the lights are a symbol of hope. Whether it’s the hope of the Christ child born into a messy world, or the hope the Winter Solstice brings, each day growing longer by mere minutes, those tiny lights lighten my heart.
And what of hope? I recently watched a video – yes, a real VHS! – of Fr. Michael Himes. Fr. Himes explained the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is when you know things are going to get better. Hope rises when it looks as if nothing will get better; there is no concrete indication that it will. And yet, those lights.
So my lights are usually the first things to go up and the last things to come down. They bring quiet, comfort, and hope in the middle of dark winter evenings. As the days do stretch minute by minute may we all unwrap the hope they represent.
And the little boy who loved lights as much as I do? He grew into a fine young man and this year married a young woman who loves lights as much as he does.