A Piece of My Mind: The point of putting up holiday lights

Setting up for Thanksgiving was difficult this year. I brought out my late mother-in-law’s harvest-red paisley tablecloth and the bin full of Thanksgiving cornucopias, fake fruit and fold-out turkeys for decorating the table. 

Because we didn’t need to put any leaves in the table, I had to fold the cloth under at both ends to keep it from dragging on the floor, and we only had room for one cornucopia and one turkey. What’s the point of polishing the silver and setting out my grandmother’s crystal candleholders if it’s just the two of us?

But the two of us are important. I realized how thankful I was that I wasn’t eating Thanksgiving dinner alone. I got out the silver and the candleholders.
The day after Thanksgiving we usually start decorating for Christmas. I dragged the artificial tree out of the attic and found the outdoor lights in a box behind them, buried under a year’s worth of odds and ends.

We have this light-stringing business down pat. The lights are put away in orderly coils labeled “Garage,” “Kitchen Window,” “Front Porch Swags,” “Porch Eaves” and “Living Room Window.” The cup hooks that hold the strings are painted white to blend with our trim, so they become invisible out of season. My husband has taken apart my garden scuffle hoe to devise a tool that enables him to lift the strings onto the cup hooks with minimal trips up and down a ladder.

As we arranged five oversized lights on the lemon tree in front of our picture window, I remarked, “The only trouble with these big lights is that they block the view of our tree inside from anyone passing by.”

“We don’t do it for the neighbors, we do it for us,” my husband answered.

Just then a neighbor, who happens to be Jewish, walked by.

“Putting your lights up again!” she called out. “It always lifts my spirits when I see your lights go up each year!”

“Mine, too!” I called back, trying hard not to smirk at my husband.

Yes, the lights and the tree are for us, but they are also for others.

At least a few times a week during the holiday season, I know we will be driving around different neighborhoods looking at holiday light displays. And each display tells us something. Whether it is the flickering candles of Diwali, blue and white lights surrounding a menorah, old-fashioned multicolored incandescent lights strung along the eaves, dazzling LED displays zigzagging up and down the tree branches, or even Darth Vader and Yoda wearing Santa hats and battling with red and green lightsabers, someone in this house is reaching out to let us know a little bit about who they are.

In this difficult time of mandatory separation, custom and tradition are comforting. So, we will put up our Christmas tree, even though our 4-year- old granddaughter can’t come to help us decorate it.

I’m hoping someone else’s granddaughter might walk past and see our tree, and that it will make her smile.

Allyson Johnson is a longtime Los Altos resident. To read her blog, visit allysonjohnson.com.

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