Originally Posted Friday, December 22, 2006
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS (also published in 2006 at "Oh My News International")
By CODY LYON
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, New York City evenings begin to arrive at their annual ritual of taking on an extra-added electric glow. The added lights, displays and decorations among other signalers of the season announce to residents and visitors alike, the holidays have arrived. New York’s extravagant Christmas lights and decorations provide visual coaxing for what is meant to be a festive time of year in the American city that never sleeps, and loves to shop. Many tourists, children and residents, look at the lights in awe, as Department store districts like those in Midtown transform into a Christmas wonderland, where shoppers scurry about like busy elves getting ready for a certain really big night.
From Rockefeller Center and the famous, tall, sculpted and not a spot missed tree, to the giant crystal snowflake at 57th and Fifth Avenue, the city is polished and ready for Santa, North Pole bound, almost to a point of perfection with its elaborate decoration. Even down in the gritty fashion district new, modern single color snowflakes and brightly lit stars line the streets, one right after the other in an accurate order present an urban district that upon first glance, appears to have been enrolled in a special holiday exterior decorating class. Parts of Manhattan becomes a polished Christmas village, a scene out of a modern more orderly version of “Miracle on 34th Street” where all is planned, a place where if one's not careful, the sheer brightness and excitement can overtake the city's buffet of visual stimuli. But, in taking some time to explore and study detail of less traveled streets, one might stumble upon a Christmas light display that doesn’t shine as bright as those in Midtown. Sometimes, on those off the beaten paths, are the lights that twinkle, and for some unexplainable reason they might bring back memories which stimulate childhood nostalgia, recollections that have the ability to provide a key that can unlock personal spirits of Christmas and the hope, anticipation as well as joy the season brings.
According to Mary Bellis at “About.com”, Inventor Edward Johnson was responsible for the first string of Christmas lights back in the late 1890’s. By 1900, Department stores had started using the lights for displays. Later, Albert Sadacca came up with “safe” Christmas lights and eventually started mass producing the brightly colored bulbs through a company called NOMA. Soon enough, cities found themselves taking on the added glow of Christmas displays of all shapes, sizes and colors from coast to coast. Hanging from light poles on main streets, big city downtowns and other places where people lived, Christmas Lights soon become the tradition they are today.
This year in New York, Christmas displays began appearing as early as Halloween. There was barely time to enjoy Thanksgiving when what would appear but strands of giant green garland across Eighth Street and the white stars in the Financial and fashion districts. Then, at some point, several strands of random, vintage Christmas displays were quietly being strung across the streets of the East Village. And, it was in that neighborhood, on 7th Street, near Avenue A, one of the displays brought back memories of growing up in a small Alabama town, when the annual appearance of Christmas decorations in Wilsonville made a small boy thrilled that the holiday season had arrived.
It was in the tiny one stop light village of less than a thousand, usually the day after Thanksgiving, a boy would ride his bike down to the main road, Hi-way 25. Here he would sit, watch and worry, eagerly awaiting men with cherry picker trucks to arrive and install the town's Christmas lights. The festive lights in Wilsonville, some shaped like canes with bells, others with Santa Clauses faces framed in green tinsel, even a few red candles held up with green garland all grand to the small town child eyes waiting for their show. Hues of red, blue and green suddenly lit power line poles and the road beneath them, areas of space and time that seemed dark and lonely over most of the year, except for the occasional passing car on its way to someplace else. Now the holiday hues projected joy on all who passed by, as well as those who appreciated them nightly.
The displays of then and there weren't so polished and the lights not so bright like today's extravagant bulbs, instead these sweet old creations twinkled, more like the far away stars in mysterious reaches of the sky, all magic to a child's eye, especially eyes from a small town who knew nothing else. He saw the lights as visual pills of warmth, comfort and the wonderment that Christmas, back then and there, meant to him.
And suddenly, here in New York City, amid the hectic hustle and bustle here on his neighborhood streets, there it was again. It took a few minutes to realize the twinkling lights were even there, complete with their sweet hues of joy and peace. It was here in the nation’s largest and busiest, that he had discovered a memory formed years ago during a period of untouched innocence and love.
In truth, it was an accidental discovery, since, he'd probably passed the draping lights several times before he'd actually taken any time to notice them. But for whatever reason, there they were, green garland donned by bells lit pink and red, hanging in poetic curves that came to point over the center of the street, all framed by a red ribbon filled with tiny gold lights.
What imperfection, this relic of history, who could say how many Christmas seasons these old weathered lights had seen? How much had New York City changed since those twinkling bulbs first decked the street and charmed the children and adults of the city's past? How much the world had changed since the boy made his way from Alabama to New York? Where do they store those whispering lights throughout the year and how did they had survive so long in the rough and tumble that is New York.
The cycling New Yorker paused with his logical pondering and began to stare deeper, to wonder at the Christmas Light's beauty, and the sense of comfort, anticipation, joy and hope they provided. He'd realized, unlike so many of the city's impressive decorations, tree's, Broadway shows and Department store window displays that all blatantly attempting to coax people into the season, he'd been ushered into the spirit through the re acquaintance with a memory. It was a memory that held a key to what this season truly meant, or at least, what it represented for him. It was the sort of moment that proved beauty, hope and joy is everywhere, but sometimes one has to make the effort to find it, in this case, beauty, joy and the peace it commanded was locked away inside the memories that an old Christmas light hanging across the street could, and did, set free.