Outdoor Christmas decorations have changed a lot since I was a kid.
I remember my old man hauling out the boxes of giant (by today’s standards) lights that he hung on the front of the house.
I don’t think it was a job he enjoyed much. At least I don’t recall him ever whistling while he worked.
Still, it was an exciting time for us, because it was a sign that Christmas was coming.
Today, the lights are smaller and more efficient, and there are many more figures and props available, including those that are animated. Some displays are created with lasers or controlled by computers.
The technology may have changed, but the effect remains the same.
It seems like everyone decorated the outsides of their houses in Duluth when I was young, but I suppose that probably isn’t true.
A lot of people did, though. Winter arrives early in the great white north, and it leaves late.
I think we used to get snow about a week after Halloween, and the possible snow season didn’t end until about the time we got out of school in June.
In the intervening months, we spent a lot of our lives in the dark. Maybe that’s why so many people hung up Christmas lights. It helped to break up the darkness, at least for part of the winter.
There are many different decorating styles when it comes to Christmas.
Some people opt for a simple, almost tentative approach, with a few basic strands of lights.
Others go for a more robust approach, incorporating lighted figures and hanging lights on every available tree and shrub, in addition to the house and garage.
There are tasteful displays, in which all of the elements seem planned and coordinated.
There are also garish displays that look like the homeowner bought up every scrap of holiday lighting he could find and dumped them all in his front yard.
I feel like a bit of a piker this year, because I don’t have any outdoor lights at the new bachelor estate, even though I had a whole year to plan.
I don’t have any excuses. Left to my own devices, I’m more or less a bone-idle beggar, and I barely get around to taking care of the regular maintenance, much less finding time to do any extra decorating.
I enjoyed holiday decorating when I was younger, but I had more energy then.
Maybe that is part of why I appreciate the people who do decorate their houses more than ever.
I’m sure some of them do it for their own self interests, but whatever the motivation, exterior decorating is something the neighbors or passers-by can enjoy just as much as the owner.
When I was young, my old man would load up the family in the big blue Pontiac station wagon, and drive us around town just to look at the Christmas lights.
That’s how I know he liked looking at the lights, even though he may not have enjoyed the job of hanging them up.
It has been a long time since I specifically went out to look at holiday lights, but I do look at them when I happen to be passing.
Sometimes, when I am coming home late at night from a city council or school board meeting, I slow down as I pass through some neighborhoods just to get a better look.
There’s something special about the sight of brightly-colored Christmas lights reflecting on freshly-fallen snow late at night when the streets are quiet and the rest of the world is dark.
Sights like that give me a feeling of peace, and, unlikely though it may seem, a glimmer of optimism.
I am especially enjoying the lights this year.
At a time when it seems the world has gone mad, and violence and hate dominate the headlines, traditional scenes like Christmas displays offer a taste of tradition and a reminder that there is still much good in the world.
As long as there are people who are willing to take the time to create dazzling displays of holiday magic around their homes, we, as a society, will still have a chance.
The bright lights merrily cutting through the darkness can give us hope that good will triumph over evil, and love will conquer hate.
Those are messages we all need to hear more often.
I appreciate the people who still risk (in some cases) life and limb to create displays that anyone can enjoy for free. Like generations before them, these people are making spirits bright.
It’s almost enough to provoke an old curmudgeon to laugh and sing sleighing songs, and that’s not easy to do.