The neighborhoods around me glow with Christmas lights–and more so than usual. We have yet to have our first significant snow and the unemployment rate here is one of the nation. People have had the time and money to put up lights–and lots of them, in some cases.
You know the Tim Allen movie Christmas with the Kranks — and how many lights the house contained? Some of the neighbors are like that–except with inflatable snowmen and santas (yes, multiple Santas) and reindeer. I enjoy walking around, looking at the lights, admiring the house nearby with three Christmas trees displayed in the window, noting which houses really look nice this year. The holiday lights are festive and help put me in the mood (that and Beach Boys Christmas) for baking and wrapping gifts for those I care about, and snow.
But then I feel a bit disgusted with myself. Christmas lights significantly increase the number of kilowatt-hours the average household uses (unless that house has switched to LED lights, which use less energy) and produce a fair amount of heat. Sure, those little bulbs are perhaps 5 watts–but 5 watts each on a strand of 100 or more–and those are just the little lights. Something fuels those kilowatt-hours and in much of the country fossil fuels still provide most of that power.
And gas is nearing $3/gallon–and not because the tax on gas has increased.
Displaying Christmas lights also seems an attempt at establishing–or maintaining–a certain “image.” A friend of mine recently told me he wanted his house to look like the Krank’s house, to be the brightest house on the block. For this reason and others, he might have issues with masculinity. But what Christmas lights really represent: a clear divergence between the “haves” and “have-nots.” The haves can afford (or at least pretend they can afford) to put up strings and strings of light, to buy animatronic reindeer and polar bears, to have giant nylon inflatables in their yard. Monetarily they can afford this–but they also have the time to devote to these Christmas decorations. The have-nots cannot.
But lights at Christmas are tradition.
Christians used them to denote where a Mass took place during times of persecution.
And there is evidence that pre-Christian pagan cultures used celebratory lights around the winter solstice. I haven’t done this research myself–but this is what a quick Google search turned up and it seems reasonable. During the longest nights of the year, perhaps a little extra light made sense. More light would soon come as the days grew longer.
Perhaps though, if we want to live responsibly on our planet, we need to re-evaluate this tradition. I’d be sad if next year there were no Christmas lights. But I believe in the long run, a lack of Christmas lights is the right thing for the planet. We need to reconsider what we value, what we celebrate, how we celebrate.
I’m not religious, not that it should matter. But since it’s Christmas we’re talking about, perhaps I should invoke a Christian argument:
Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
If this is true–and humans again and again prove themselves to be anything but the meek when it comes to the planet–what are we setting ourselves up for? And how much do we rush ourselves to this point as we continue our vanities, vanities like Christmas lights?