Sometimes unwritten rules need to be changed, and it’s high time for an update to our social compact. OK, get ready for this: I think it should be socially acceptable, and even highly encouraged, for people to leave their Christmas lights up through January.
This dark pandemic year has left us all needing cheer, and nothing is cheerier than the twinkling lights of Christmas.
Whether they come up the day after Thanksgiving, or are gradually added during December, these lighted holiday displays are an absolute delight — a gift to neighbors, friends and all who pass by in the darkness.
I’m grateful for every single person who puts up lights, whether it’s a simple strand around the windows or an elaborate display that draws people in from far and wide.
The only problem is that some people, wanting to get things tidied up quickly — and perhaps fearing scorn for being “those folks” who leave lights up all year — take them down far too soon. It breaks my heart a little to see lights start coming down on Dec. 26.
It brings to mind an old saying of cartoonist Kin Hubbard from a century ago: “Next to a circus there ain't nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.”
We visited my dear mother-in-law a few days after Christmas and she pointed out with happiness the beautiful lights of her neighborhood, and with a hint of wistfulness noted that some of the decorations had already come down.
On the other hand, there are a few brave souls who fight the trend. As I write this, my heart is still glowing from the sight this morning of a gorgeous holiday light display that is still joyfully ablaze on Williams Ave. in Chehalis, near W.F. West High School.
There is a fence of red and green candy canes. There are bright white lights wrapped around a tree in the front yard. Proud purple and pale blue lights adorn the bushes. A trellis is aglow.
Boy, I was happy to see that house still sending its cheer out into a dark, chilly month.
It’s like a stranger who gives you a friendly smile and a nod of affirmation when you pass by, or someone whistling a happy song as they go about their day.
Maybe folks who keep their lights up are harkening back to more ancient traditions.
In Sweden and Finland, trees and decorations are traditionally kept up until St. Knut's Day on Jan. 13, also known as the 20th day of Christmas.
My proposal is to keep them up even longer.
The dark days of January need every bit of cheer they can get. A string of Christmas lights on every corner will help remind us of the friendly neighborliness that we share.
One problem with my plan, I suppose, is that folks might be getting tired of the Christmas season by the end of January.
If I may be so bold, that’s probably in part because Christmas starts before Halloween! We need to give each season and holiday its due, my friends. Let Thanksgiving have its time in our thoughts and deeds. Start ramping up to Christmas with the celebration of Advent throughout December. When Christmas day comes, that’s the first day of Christmas. Let’s really start celebrating the holiday then.
If folks want to mark the end of Christmas by taking down their snowmen and Santa decorations, I’m all for that. But my plea to all of us is to keep up the lights while the days are short enough that the lights will still beckon to travelers headed to work and coming home. Once the days get long enough that we no longer need them, that’s the time to take the lights down.
For all of us going through this dark time — the dead of winter and an ongoing pandemic — the lights of Christmas are as necessary on Jan. 25 as they are on Dec. 25. Thank you to all who still keep them shining.
Brian Mittge is still holding onto the Christmas spirit from his home south of Chehalis. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.