The Uptight Hipster: Christmas Lights

Christmas lights downtown in the 1950s or '60s.

Christmas lights downtown in the 1950s or ’60s.

It’s cold.  It’s winter.  I want to stay indoors.  I want to drink cocoa in front of the fireplace with my jolly family.

But I am already dressed for the outdoors, so I must go.  I wear an all-purpose wool sweater that resembles a llama.

It is getting dark.

Did you forget your shoes?

Slip into the fleece-lined slippers that double as shoes.

The Rolling Stones are singing “Winter” on my iPod.

The Christmas lights in my neighborhood are already on at 4:30.  The scene is stark: bare trees, chunks of icy snow under the evergreens, and a pink-orange sunset as faraway as outer space. The lights are the only sign of softness.  When I walk around the block, I see 25 decorated houses.  Lights twinkle from roofs, trees and bushes.  Tacky lit-up creches, LED sleighs, reindeer, and window menorahs glimmer.

I miss the bleakness. The bleakness is kind of pretty.

I don’t approve of Christmas lights. I am an uptight hipster, not as oxymoronic as it sounds, who doesn’t do drugs or concerts but who cares about energy conservation. The lights waste energy.  The greenhouse gas emissions are huge. I read that each bulb on holiday lights produces enough carbon monoxide to fill 15,500 hot air balloons.

So what are my neighbors thinking?

LED lights are supposed to be more eco-friendly.  Are my neighbors using LED lights?

I can go door-to-door and say, I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and do you use LED?

Uh huh.

At least they're LED.

At least they’re LED.

People have different attitudes towards Christmas lights in different neighborhoods.  Poor?  No lights when we lived in a neighborhood of mostly run-down houses.  Urban apartment house?  No lights, except indoors.   Working-class?    Bright bright lights, Santas, sleighs, reindeer in a competitive neighborhood trying to design the best displays.  Wow!  I want to go back there and take pictures.  Middle-class urban neighborhood & Suburbs?  Very subdued, mostly very pretty, as if in church, only a few fright shows of explosive high wattage.

Why do I think so much about lights?  I sit in front of my computer under low-energy light bulbs that don’t emit enough light.  Soon, I understand, we will not be able to get the bright old-fashioned kind.  I feel that I am being deprived of good light for the sake of an invention that isn’t quite good enough.  Perhaps this is how people feel about Christmas lights

The Rolling Stones mention Christmas lights in “Winter”:

And I wish I’d been out in California
When the lights on all the Christmas trees went out
But I been burnin’ my bell, book and candle
And the restoration plays have all gone ’round

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

And W. S. Di Piero describes them in “Chicago and December”:

I walk north across  
the river, Christmas lights  
crushed on skyscraper glass,  
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,  
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing  
through the artless fog.  

W. S. Di Piero

W. S. Di Piero

They fascinate us with their different rhythms and ways  of thinking about lights.

In the end we have to accept the lights. It’s Christmas.

3 thoughts on “The Uptight Hipster: Christmas Lights

  1. You’re right about the class connections between what we find in neighborhood lighting. Where I am is the middle to upper middle and we have this year all tasteful subdued lighting. We have had houses (so to speak) which break this code, but the one which used to do this has stopped. We did buy and decorate a tree and put it in our screened porch, complete with new lights — my idea because it does not feel like Xmas w/o the tree and I can’t escape it. Since we bought but two sets of lights and the tree is in the porch we fit in fine. I’m moving my Sylvia blog later today to WordPress. More on that after we’ve managed it.


  2. It is nice to have lights this time of year because it is so dark. And I understand that LED lights are MUCH better.

    I am so sorry to hear about your problems with the old site for the Sylvia blog. It will be nice to have it at WordPress, though.


  3. Pingback: Christmas time: inside/outside, upstairs/downstairs, phase 3: spending money « Under the Sign of Sylvia II

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s