I grew up in a neighborhood inhabited only by Italian-Catholics and Jews. Nary a Protestant to be found, not to mention anything more exotic. This time of year, homes boasted one of two motifs. Windows either sported a lit menorah for about an hour and a half on each of the eight nights of Chanukah, or the windows, along with roofs, gardens, and any accessible surface, were resplendent with Christmas lights. With night falling early and a chill in the air, the bedecked Catholic houses made the entire neighborhood a cheerier place.
I miss those lights. Driving around today, a well-decorated house is a rarity. There are a few streets with names like Candy Cane Lane scattered around various cities where you cannot buy a house if you do not agree to go all out in December to bedazzle passers-by. However, the pickings are slim. Obviously, Jewish neighborhoods are not going to sport Christmas lights, but where are the folks I grew up with and their Protestant counterparts?
I have a few thoughts on the dearth of decorations. Perhaps you have more. The first time I noticed the muting of Christmas lights was during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. His strange approach to energy ushered in a focus on energy limitation and scarcity. He sat in the Oval Office wearing a sweater rather than turning on the heat, gasoline was rationed, and the idea of expansively kindling strings of light bulbs became prohibitively expensive as well as being seen as almost un-American. Just as the awful cost of shutting down places of worship during Covid was ignored, the price paid by muting an annual festival celebration was overlooked.
The Carter years and those that followed ushered in more changes in American life leading to what we now consider normal. Two-income families, a decline in marriage, and a reduction in traditional religious affiliation all make holiday commemorations rarer and more difficult.
Though I was always thrilled to celebrate my own holidays, I did appreciate and enjoy the sparkle and twinkle that my friends’ houses emitted, lighting my afterschool walk home from the bus stop with friendly gaiety. Our country is poorer for that lack.
This Musing is dedicated in memory of all those slaughtered in the Hamas attack and among them, Maayan Idan, age 18, murdered in her home on October 7, 2023.
With prayers for the safe release of all the hostages and among them Tsachi Idan, Maayan’s father. May he be returned soon to his wife and two younger children.
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