Lighting up the season

We’re keeping our Christmas tree up and outdoor lights on, at least for a few more days. There’s no hurry to turn them off and pack them away.

Winter is a long, dark slog, especially now the rush of holidays is over. From Halloween to New Year’s Day, we have official celebrations for two months. But from now until spring, whenever that arrives, we have but Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day to help pass the time and break through the coldest season.

So why not keep the lights on?

We had our tree up well before Thanksgiving and I added lights on the deck before December arrived. They’re a blend of two strands of white and one of multiple colors and we are pleased with the unified look. We added a small metal Christmas tree, perched on our patio table with an extra strand of colored lights on it, to the outdoor display and it’s a holly, jolly look.

A neighbor across the courtyard has a massive “Merry Christmas” that glows all night long and several other homes also have outdoor displays. We watched as new ones were added and quietly welcomed them to the party.

Christmas lights go back more than two centuries, starting as candles on trees to honor the birth of Jesus, the light of the world. Germans first brought trees into their homes as part of the seasonal celebration and it has spread across the globe. Outdoor displays at homes have been popular for more than half a century now, which means they were getting started when I was a kid.

We always enjoyed searching for bursts of color and light on the darkened streets of Brookings and Estelline when I was a kid. Dad loved the lights and he would slowly drive through streets as we looked for homes that offered a Christmas beacon in the dark. We kept making those drives for decades, and Grace and I did it a few times in Sioux Falls this year.

Some homes had magnificent coordinated displays, one in shades of red. Others were more simple and elegant. We got a laugh out of a couple homes where a pair of light bulbs, one red, the other green, had been placed outside.

That must have made for a short decorating session. Still, it’s the thought that counts, not the number of bulbs, Santas and reindeer.

Christmas lights remind us of our homes and evoke memories of holidays with our families. Those are precious, especially at difficult times.

Our mom died in January 1995 as Christmas lights were starting to be switched off. But a few homes kept them burning, and for some reason, I found that comforting. I drove from Brookings to Estelline, where Dad and our youngest brother Chad were living then, and returned home on Sunday nights.

As I drove home, seeing Christmas lights was a bright spot on a very gloomy time. One farmhouse about 15 miles north of Brookings, along old Highway 77, had an illuminated outdoor Christmas tree that stood out.

Every Sunday night, I drove back to Brookings, looking for that tree, its holiday lights bursting through the darkness of a prairie winter night. Week after week, it was there, until early March. I was glad for that.

We won’t keep our Christmas tree up that long, and the deck lights will soon be unplugged and packed away. I would say another week. Maybe two.

I wonder if there are Valentine’s Day lights on sale somewhere? Grace loves pink, anyway. And green lights would herald St. Pat’s Day and the arrival of spring.

Traditions have to start somewhere.

South Dakota native Tom Lawrence, a former Pioneer executive editor, has written about the state, its politics and people since 1978. Read his blog Prairie Perspective at and follow him on Twitter at @TLCF26.

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