SideLines: How long to light the lights?

I don’t know how much longer they’ll last, or how long they should.

It is the day after Christmas. By now, I assume, all the packages have been opened, the bowls of eggnog emptied and the stores are full of people exchanging clothes that don’t fit and using gift cards to take advantage of after-Christmas sales. Actually, there should be a name for that. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday, maybe Last Chance or Time to Get What You Really Want.

I suppose it’s because of the good weather we’ve had – until last week’s winter storm, of course – but there seem to be more Christmas decorations up than in years past.

When I was growing up, my father used to love driving around town, admiring the different Christmas light displays. It was sort of a Christmas Eve tradition for us. As a child, my favorite was a huge wooden Santa Claus getting out of his sleigh, a big smile on his face, on the roof of one of the biggest houses in town. Today, my tastes have changed; now, I prefer houses that have a single white light in every window, as well as any kind of nativity scene.

Although I have kept up the family tradition on my own, this may have been the first Christmas when I didn’t have to leave my house to do it. Whenever I feel like looking at lights, all I have to do is step outside my front door.

Directly across the street from me, my new neighbor, who moved in this past summer, has framed his two-story house with an incredible display; not in the same league as Clark Griswold, but very nice. The door and the two adjoining windows are lined with bright red and blue blinking lights, as are the two windows that face the street on the second floor. The people in the house just south of him have their deck outlined in a beautiful blue strand of lights, and the neighbors on the other side of him also have their house lit up. In fact, just about every house on either side of the street is decorated except mine.

I guess that’s how you can tell which house is mine.

Which leads to the obvious question: How long does one leave up Christmas lights? I once had a neighbor who dumped his Christmas tree, stripped of all its lights and decorations, out on the curb in the middle of the afternoon Christmas Day, then removed all the lights from his house.

Another neighbor likes to keep her outside lights on until the end of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Much farther down the street, a third neighbor keeps their Christmas lights on until early spring. Apparently, their son was killed this time of year many years ago and it’s their way of remembering him.

Speaking of lost children, there are simply no words or phrases to convey the loss of the 20 innocent children who were murdered on Dec. 14. Such words were never invented in the first place. Who could ever have imagined that such expressions would ever be needed? Such an act is just beyond all human comprehension.

Although the tragedy happened in a small town in Connecticut, the shooting affects all of us. Whether or not we are parents of young children doesn’t matter. That thing that binds us all together as human beings, regardless of our age or race or nationality, has been shaken to its core.

Even in an imperfect world, these things are not supposed to happen. When it does, what does it say about us as a society?

Like everyone else, my thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims’ families – and, in a way, to all of us.

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