Published in the Rains County Leader on December 15, 2020:
One of my many favorite parts of Christmas is the outdoor displays of lights, but apparently not everyone
feels the same way. Last week a resident of a small town in Minnesota received an anonymous letter claiming that her very understated decorations were “a reminder of systemic biases against our neighbors who don’t celebrate Christmas or who can’t afford to put up lights of their own.” Not that I have a strong opinion about this new issue that has suddenly gone viral, but that is just wrong.
I grew up in what would have been considered an upper lower class or lower middle class neighborhood. There were a few families that hung a string or two of lights along the front eaves or around the porch columns, but ours wasn’t one of them. Dad worked two jobs year round, and since one of them was at the Post Office, he worked lots of overtime during the holidays. He was too tired to climb on the roof for anything short of a major leak, and any money left over at the end of the month was earmarked for clothes, music lessons, or a summer vacation.
That’s not to say that he was against lights. On the contrary, when he wasn’t working or sleeping he was
always willing to drive us around town in search of the best decorations. Our most successful outings were on Sunday evenings when, after an afternoon visit from Granny Hagan, we took her back to Dallas where she was a live-in caregiver for the invalid mother of a wealthy property owner in Highland Park. Not only were there some good lights along the way, but her neighborhood also had some really great lights.
We didn’t have to go that far to find some evidence of Christmas spirit, though. A few blocks from our house was a short street that we nicknamed Silk Stocking Row. The houses had
more than one story, more than one bathroom, and garages that held more than one car – and the families liked to decorate. The first year, they lined the street with candles mounted on wrought iron stakes and covered with glass globes – very classy and nostalgic. But keeping those candles lit and those globes clean must have been a real pain, because it wasn’t long before candles were replaced by electric bulbs, and the displays became more elaborate. One house even had a large Santa Claus train that ran around a circular track at the end of the street. I always looked forward to seeing the new additions each year, but I also looked forward to putting up a simple but beautiful tree at home.
As an adult, my house has sometimes been decorated a lot and sometimes not so much. Since we’ve lived in
Emory, it has been the latter – mainly because our boxes of Christmas décor are in the very back of the storage shed loft. I’m not saying that David did that on purpose, but putting up decorations is not his favorite part of Christmas. Still, he enjoys a holiday light safari as much as I do. Last week I had to drive into town after dark. I could hardly stay in my lane as I stared at the many displays on Hwy 19 and on the Courthouse Square. I plan for the two of us to take a tour in the next few days of those locations as well as Sandy Creek and Heritage Parks and several of the subdivisions in the area.
I still love Christmas lights, and I really don’t understand the objections of the person who wrote the letter to the woman in Minnesota. If they would step up and explain their feelings in more detail, maybe we could open a dialogue about how to solve the problem without doing away with traditions that go back generations. I know I have never dealt with the racial issues experienced by many in our society, and I grew up in an era when I didn’t know I was poor because no one told me I was. I’d hate to learn that this beautiful custom caused anyone anxiety or heartache, but I’d also hate to see it become another victim of political correctness.