Living In the Light

©Bluartpapelaria at Released under a creative commons license.

Around this time of the year I become obsessed with lights.  Yes, lights decorating the outside of houses, Christmas tree lights, light displays at the zoo, light displays at the botanic gardens, and – when we have time, which we haven’t the last several years – driving slowly through neighborhoods to enjoy their lights.


Curiously, I don’t put my own lights out very early or very profusely, partly because I’m always on deadline of one sort or another, and partly because I find myself afraid of overdoing it/doing it tackily.

Who can forget the Christmas light display from our neighbors in our first starter neighborhood?  No one who saw it.  He not only illuminated every possible thing, from roof to mailbox, but the lights chased each other, in multicolored splendor all night long.

It was a good thing that, as I was confined to bed for much of our last year there – with a difficult pregnancy – my room faced the back and not the front.  If I’d seen that light display till all hours of the night, sooner or later I’d have found the air rifle and tried to stop it.

And yeah, there are Christmas light displays that are done in a style that seems like they would have used graffiti, only they used lights.  You are probably right now bringing the images to mind of giant, inflatable, lit-eup Santa clauses, nodding elves, singing nativities, and who knows what other horrors.

There was a house, down in the ‘Springs, where, unable to decide which of the giant inflatable figures they wished to inflict on the world, they crammed them all cheek to jowl in a handkerchief-sized front yard.

But even these displays, while they can be a torment to the neighbors, are fun to drive by, even if the fun is “oh, my Lord, and they crammed in a lit-eeup partridge in a pear tree.”

Perhaps I’m more appreciative of light displays than most Americans.  My childhood was fairly well lit by the standards of, say, my parents’ childhood, but compared to our lives today, it was dark and dreary.  I think the bedroom where I spent most of my time (I was very sickly.  The answer to what childhood illnesses I caught was “yes.”  And Portuguese medical culture of the sixties hadn’t become used to the availability of antibiotics, so the response to anyone being sick was to isolate them) was illuminated by a 60-watt light bulb way up on the ceiling, which could be supplemented by a shaded 30-watt bulb.  Most rooms in the house had a single light bulb, sometimes with a shade, in the middle of the ceiling.  It looked bright to me then, but it really wasn’t.


Our Christmas tree was a four-foot tree, with a single strand of anemic lights.  Any more and it would throw down the electrical board for the whole house.

Perhaps because I have a touch of seasonal affective disordereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I found myself longing for light in midwinter.  And the light was small, hesitant, and stuck up on the ceiling.

At that, we were practically flooded with light compared to most of human history.  I have a dim memory of helping my older cousin trim the wick on oil lamps, and can’t for the life of me remember if that was at my grandmother’s, where we both lived, or at some other relative’s house.  I don’t remember using oil lamps as a child except when – inevitably – the electricity went out for a vast portion of the evening.  However, from the fragmentary feel of the memory, I was very young and it might be a time period of which I have no real recollection.

But we had light, and it was not prohibitive.

The romantics who extoll the wonders of the middle ages, the leftists who go on about how we use too much energy and must cut down and live in the dark to suit the demands of “Mother Earth,” have never actually experienced dark or seen how it can curtail human experience and human ability to create and produce.

Any one of us has enough time after the regular work hours to engage in hobbies, or frankly whole other careers (and sometimes hobbies that become careers) — but in the days when lights were expensive, hard to keep lit for any length of time, or just not enough, winter dinners were early and bed followed shortly through sheer lack of any alternative.  And if you woke up in the middle of the night, you had nothing you could do but lie there and perhaps pray.


In my research on Elizabethan England (look, it’s a sickness) I came across the book The Elizabethan Underworld. Like many history books of this kind, it is a fascinating read on its own, aside from any research you might or might not be doing.  We tend to think of history as a stuffy place or a well-ordered one, and in the case of Americans, contemplating the monarchies of Europe, as a grandiose one.  This one gets right into the world of pickpockets and conmen of the age of Shakespeare, and it gives you perspective.

One of the things it gives you perspective on is how dark that world was.  Not metaphorically (not much more than ours, though a bit cruder, crueler and brasher), but physically.  For instance one of the cons practiced on rubes was making a coin move without touching it.  It only worked if the tavern was dark enough no one could see the hair tied to the coin.

A little more than a hundred years ago that’s what you meet with.  Gas lights in houses – much less efficient and frankly a lot more dangerous than electricity – was the height of modernity.

When I was very little we inherited a set of antique glass ornaments and I was fascinated by little birds that clipped on the tree and had a hole in their backs.  Mom told me the hole was for little candles.  Even at five or six, I wasn’t eager to put lit candles on the tree.  I could appreciate the danger, even if I knew people did do it.

Nowadays?  Even people living on modest incomes can light not only their tree, but their house with a myriad of small, safe lights, and not break the bank while doing it.


We live surrounded by lights and only fools and leftists – but I repeat myself – can pretend it would be better to live in the dark.

While going through the blossoms of light displays in the botanic gardens in Denver on an exceptionally warm night last week, I told myself husband that any of the great writers of the past that I love to read — Shakespeare or Dumas — would look at those lighted, moving displays and see a fairyland.  Even if they knew they were wrought by scientific means and the hands of humans, they’d be awed by the awesome magic that can make the trees live and blaze with light in the middle of a winter night.  Safe light.  Affordable light.  Why it might have impressed even the jaded wit of Miss Jane Austen.

It is no great feat of our own that we’re the ones who live in this time.  We just got lucky about when we were born, and about how the achievements of our ancestors make our way bright and easy.

The only thing we can do is fight those who wish to turn off the lights – this is why for Earth hour I turn on every possible light, including in closets – and turn us into the darkness that suffuses the lands where leftist ideology reigns.

Live in the light.  Refuse the venomous lies of would-be tyrants.

Generations without count would give their all for what we enjoy.  Even that house with the lighted Santa and the whistling illuminated train.

Go and enjoy them.  How fortunate we are to have such a legacy at our fingertips.

[Ed. I can’t resist adding this link: Lighting is 500,000 Times Cheaper Today]



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