See the light

Editor’s Notebook column

By Rick Palsgrove, Southeast editor

I think one way people like to defy the growing darkness this time of year – when sunlight shortens and the night lengthens during the Christmas season – is by stringing celebratory colorful electric lights on the outside of their homes.

These Christmas lights brighten the scene and help combat the gloominess the coming winter’s cold and enveloping darkness bring.

Noodling around looking at various websites online, I found that Thomas Edison, as with most things electric, is thought to be the first person to put up a display of outdoor electric Christmas lights when he strung lights around his Menlo Park lab in 1882. Strings of such lights were considered expensive then, so it wasn’t until the 1920s, with  improved technology and more affordable pricing, that stringing Christmas lights on homes became popular. During the Great Depression and World War II the trend waned, but by the 1950s and 1960s the lights returned and their popularity grew in the 1970s with the introduction of the mini-bulbs and the practice has grown ever since.

Though I’m too lazy to string lights on my own front porch, I do like to look at the bright electrified handiwork of others.

I like the “old school” style of outdoor Christmas lighting, such as the strings of large light bulbs that are a mixture of colors rather than small and mono-chromatic lights. To me, the big bulbs just stand out better in the night and seem warmer. But each of us has our preferences. It’s all good.

I like the simpler displays of outdoor electric Christmas lights. Big, flashy displays are fun and I do gaze upon them with a certain awe, but the simple ones consisting of a string of lights on a porch, strung on a tree, or outlining some windows have a sincere quality to them. It’s hard to explain, but, to mix my holiday references, it’s a feeling like Linus searching for a sincere pumpkin patch in the “Peanuts” television special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Something else I enjoy is looking at strings of big bulb lights reflecting the sunlight and sparkling on a bright December day. It’s like the lights get to perform for 24 hours that way.

I also like seeing single electric candles in windows. This is a nostalgic preference for me because when I was a kid we had electric candles in each of our windows. Rather than using traditional orange/yellowish bulbs in the candles that looked like normal fire, my mom bought blue bulbs so the candles had a “blue flame.” Mom used blue lights because they looked serene, but also for family reasons because my dad worked for Columbia Gas, which had as its symbol the familiar blue flame generated by burning natural gas.

Take a walk this season and admire the lights in your neighborhood. Look off in the distance when you are out and about in the countryside and watch for the patches of electric color beaming across the fields from a house in the distance. Know these lights are an extension of the people inside the places the electric wonders decorate.

Enjoy the colorful glow the lights bring to the December nights. We’ll miss them come gray January when the lights are put back in their boxes for another year.

Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.

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