Keep the Lights On

January 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

It’s January 11, and my street in my small Montana city is nearly dark. We had our first storm of the year last night. The new snow is valiantly clinging to the last reflections of light, but not for long.

Just a few days ago, my street was ablaze with light. Nearly every house, except for our curmudgeonly next door neighbor’s, twinkled with holiday lights. Some were sophisticated, with one or two colors threaded along eaves or artfully among winter trees. Others went for more bling. A block away, one family had multi-colored lights flashing in time with Christmas carols that played on a sound system in their yard. Closer to home, our other (much nicer) next door neighbors propped an inflatable and illuminated giant Santa onto their roof.

We aren’t technologically savvy enough to coordinate music and lights in our house. But we do manage to hang some white and blue lights outside and in. Jay’s in charge of the outside ones. This year, he somehow managed to arrange it so that they could be turned on and off with a switch inside our house. That was our miracle. (I love my husband, but he’s not exactly the handiest tool in the box.)

I adore all the lights, from the most basic to the gaudiest. The brilliance of bright lights in the coldest and darkest time of the year, the way the snow collects the lights’ hues, and the intentionality of the light—it all takes my breath away. It is so beautiful. And hopeful.

Then everyone takes them down. It’s time to move on. We drive by our neighbors’ Christmas trees, strewn lop-sized and defeated next to their garbage cans. There is nothing sadder to me than a used-up and discarded Christmas tree. It’s like a visual reminder of time passing, of magic fading, of the calendar grinding and churning along.

I wish we could extend the light and the hope of the holiday season just a little bit longer. I know that if we left them up all year long they would lose their brilliance and become everyday. But I’m asking for just a small reprieve. Could we keep lighting the darkness until the end of January? Martin Luther King Day at least?

I’ve never liked the ending of holidays. Even as a small child I was conscious, in the middle of celebrating my birthday or Christmas or summer vacation, that before I was ready, it would be over. My nostalgia has grown only stronger as I’ve aged—and gotten sick and had a kid. It’s morbid, but once you’ve seriously had to contemplate the end of your life, you recognize that you can’t take for granted that you’ll get another Christmas, another birthday, another season of light. Then, too, Andrew keeps growing and changing more quickly than I can keep up. That’s the way it should be, of course – god forbid he stop. But sometimes I want a pause button—a way to suspend Jay, Andrew, and me in this lovely moment.

Of course there are no pause buttons. Time slithers by, like a serpent on the hunt.

That doesn’t mean we can’t keep shining a little light into the void—at least for a few more days. I am. I’ve only got to flick a switch inside to light the way home.

Have you taken down your holiday lights? Were you sad to pack them away?


  1. Leanne Shirtliffe said,

    This? This is poetry: “like a visual reminder of time passing, of magic fading, of the calendar grinding and churning along.” And this too. “Time slithers by, like a serpent on the hunt.”

    Thank you.

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Thanks, Leanne, for the high praise.

  2. Barbara Barnes said,

    Our lights are still on, and will be till the end of January… just what we do. Solstice is bringing in the light.. so I feel like we “hold the space” for the light to begin returning. Also… I highly recommend you effort to see the sunsets lately… poetry in the sky to match the poetry in your writing. Love you… and your Light!!!!

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Yay for leaving your lights twinkling. I like the idea of keeping them up til the end of January–when we have a little more daylight.

  3. Marianne said,

    For me it is always amazing how much I love holiday decorations until midnight the day of the holiday. Then they become clutter. Except for lights. I wants lights all around my house all year round that change color depending on the holiday or season.

  4. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    Yes! I am ready to pack away all the tchotchkes right away. But not the lights!

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