Every year, the day after Thanksgiving, my wife and I have a rather odd ritual — we dig boxes out of storage and move our furniture around. We then proceed to construct a fake tree inside of our house, wrap stringy glowing bulbs throughout the “needles,” and adorn it with strange little keepsakes on hooks. We then clear a space for a miniature barnyard scene of figurines, depicting some crazy astrologers who traveled thousands of miles to meet a baby. Then comes my favorite part; we drape white and colored lights around the windows of our little apartment.
I love Christmas lights. The twinkle, the ambiance, the warmth. For some reason these little glowing lamps give me a tremendous amount of joy.
Even here in LA, people put up lights. Not quite as many, it seems, as in the colder-weather locations I travel to, but they do go up. People put them on big-ass construction cranes, they snake them around the skinny trunks of palm trees, and they attach them to their tiny apartment balconies. They change normally-white outdoor bulbs to ones of red and green.
I’m sure I love this because it reminds me of my childhood or something, but I also love it because there is no practical reason for it. It’s not rational. In fact, it’s completely irrational.
It’s a total pain to hang lights on a house. It costs us more money in extra electricity. It’s a huge inconvenience when we have to take all this crap down and put it away.
And yet we do it. Every year.
I’m sure this strange tradition means many things to many people. But for me, it’s a gentle reminder that there’s a whole lot more to being human than simply being “practical.”
For many years in school we’re conditioned to behave obediently and politely and “think through” our decisions, then when we go to college we’re taught to focus on making “adult choices,” and then we get to our work life we spend most of our days obsessing over making “reasonable resolutions” with “calculated logic” for the good of whatever company we work for.
We spend an enormous amount of our lives exercising our logical left brain.
But then we go and do crazy shit like hanging glowing balls from the gutters of our houses and assembling fake evergreens in our living rooms.
It turns out, we human beings aren’t nearly as rational as we think we are. Even here in LA — perhaps especially here — seeing lights reminds me that we’re all more alike than we are different. That we want to be more than just machines who punch the clock for a meaningless job. And it’s our “irrational,” emotional selves that often give us the best things about being part of this crazy human family.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go jack up my energy bill and turn my twinkling lights on.
“Celebrate, Remember A Year In The Life Of Friends” by Josh Allan Dykstra on November 30th, 2006
A Different Kind Of Normal by Josh Allan Dykstra on March 26th, 2012
You Cannot Legislate The Poor Into Freedom by Josh Allan Dykstra on September 21st, 2009