Fri08012014

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Lighting the Christmas season: It’s all good

When asked, most people can easily name their favorite thing about Christmas time. For some, it’s the food. I can understand this. Pecan pie, eggnog, and yes, though I can’t understand the attraction, fruit cake. For others, it’s the music. Christmas carols, hymns, Bing Crosby singing White Christmas, and an addition I have come to enjoy, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, all say Christmas. But for me, the one thing that delights me most about the holiday season are the lights. Thomas Edison invented the electric light in 1879. In 1880, to celebrate the season, he strung the first Christmas lights outside of his Menlo Park laboratory. Since then they have been a part of the holiday season.

Ever since I was a little boy nothing quite said Christmas for me like lights — you name it, strings of lights, flashing lights, red and green flood lights, and even lights that turn on and off to music. I often go driving, with no particular destination in mind, just looking for displays and seeing just how far some folks are willing to go. It’s something of a Christmas-time hobby, and I am rarely disappointed. It’s always fun.
Not far from where I live there is a family -— and yes I admit it’s tacky, but so what — that has their lights turn on and off to the rhythm of Elvis singing Christmas carols. I understand that last year when the neighbors had had their fill of Jingle Bell Rock for the 75th time, the police were called. The display continued, but the agreement was that Elvis would only be played for one hour early in the evening. Peace and the holiday spirit prevailed and so did Elvis.
Then there are the mega displays. Even in a recession, there are always those who want to press the limit on just how much wattage they can project. One of my favorites, and I can only estimate the number, has at least 5,000 lights. I am sure this setup required the installation of additional circuits just to power it all. I also understand from chatting with the owner that it took three people an entire weekend to put up.
When I was little I remember my dad buying special “outdoor” Christmas lights. Some of you will remember these. They were large bulbs set in weather resistant settings. They were expensive and had to be carefully checked each year for burnouts. Putting them up was a big production. These were followed a few years later by the smaller twinkle lights. They were cheaper and easier to handle. But times keep changing and this year, like a lot of people, I am trying LED lights. They’re pricier, but I like their soft light, and until the next trend in Christmas lights, I am sold on them.
However, while the big displays, the musical displays, and my own LEDs are a lot of fun, it doesn’t always take an expensive display to say Christmas. Last week I was visiting an economically hard hit region of Southwest Virginia. Unemployment in the area is in the double digits and the nearby town of Covington has a look reminiscent of the Great Depression. I had gotten a bit lost and was on a back road when I came across a run-down trailer decorated for the holidays with a single bedraggled strand of lights. There was nothing grand about it. Several lights were burned out. But this modest display of holiday color all by itself in such a stark setting captured the spirit of Christmas just as well as any expensive display could ever do.
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