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Let There Not be Light

Well, not too much, anyway. Many years ago, a local organization (I believe it was Rockbridge Historical Foundation) convinced many citizens of the city and county to forego elaborate outdoor lighted decorations at Christmastime. Instead, they suggested a single electric candle lighted in every window (or in those windows visible to neighbors or the public). The suggestion caught on, and in parts of Lexington one can still see evidence of the practice. After all, the connotations of candles are considerably more appropriate to the birth of Christ and in this season suggestive.

Of course, we Americans decorate, sometimes lavishly, for our birthdays and other events, and who would eliminate mistletoe and kissing from the Christmas tradition? (OK, skip that for the duration of the plague—I mean virus.) But what always comes to my mind is a street in Mobile, Alabama, where I lived long ago. This was a dead-end street maybe 200 feet long, with two lanes and a turnaround space at the end. It was lined closely on both sides with small but fairly new and elegant houses. The inhabitants had obviously agreed to make the entire street a decorative phenomenon, and strings of lights in all colors, as well as Santa images, in addition to--well, you name something gaudy, and it was no doubt there, along with a long waiting line of cars.

I was in my teens and was commissioned by my mother to haul her and some relatives to view the sight. It was unforgettable, but I still wonder what spirits were awakened in the audiences. Be assured, none was awakened in me. Since then, I’ve seen (as have you) elaborate Christmas displays, some occupying a vacant lot, often an acre or more of territory. It’s hard for me to justify such effort. Is it religious fervor? That could be, though the props (Santa and company) don’t suggest it. Are the perps, oops, I mean proprietors just overcome with enthusiasm of a non-religious sort? Or are all decorations at Christmastime the product of doing what’s expected, whether in one’s mind or the general public’s?

By the way, any Christmas decorations, by tradition, must be removed when Christmas is over, that is just after the twelfth day of Christmas. (As resident pedant, I can’t resist correcting the American version of the song. In our version, “My true love gave to me” a series of birds and then five pieces of jewelry, a bunch of golden rings. But this English song of old wasn’t composed that way. The gifts on the fifth day are more birds. Rings are ringed-neck pheasants, birds of a golden color with, of course, rings on necks.

There’s another source of excess lighting to which I object, and it has nothing to do with Christmas. I refer to lighting one’s yard with strong bulbs. The apparent object is to discourage nighttime intruders. But bandits don’t avoid robbing houses with lighted yards. Instead, they study the situation of the lights, noting shadowy areas that allow a hidden approach to the house. What do I dislike about these unnecessary lights? They spoil darkness and views of the stars, generally lending neighborhoods an atmosphere of a big city.

So let’s decorate modestly and let’s fend off burglars with locks and dogs.

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