Tasteful white lights

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(HOST) Lately commentator Tom Slayton has been feeling a sudden – almost irresistable – urge to build a giant bonfire – and dance around it.

(SLAYTON) On my way home the other night, the realization hit me: I live in the land of tasteful white lights.>br>
As far down the block as I could see, everybody had their Christmas lights up. And almost all of them were the reserved, understated lights of middle class America in December: tiny, carefully arranged white lights. I had some myself, hung around the branches of my quietly dying miniature plum tree.

The lights go up at this time of year every year, because somewhere, far in the recesses of our alligator brains, we are afraid of the growing darkness. We want to celebrate light, charm light, tease it back into our lives and into our world.

That’s why people began celebrating the solstice in late December eons ago. Christmas began as basically a pagan holiday: a plea to the light to come back.

And so, in my solidly respectable, middle-class chunk of town, we all put up our non-flashing, minimalist white lights. Elegant Tasteful – and slightly boring.

What are these subtle lights trying to say? Why are so few of them brightly colored, traditional Christmas lights? Why are there no reindeer or Santas or wise men or shepherds? Or Menorahs or Buddhas, for that matter? Why so thoughtful, so tediously elegant?

Perhaps it’s a statement protesting the commercialization of Christmas. Or maybe we’re trying to emulate the quiet beauty of a winter night with winter stars and winter ice. In this year of obvious global warming, that sort of thing is at best a hopeful gesture. Perhaps it really will snow by Christmas. Or at least frost.

Maybe we’re practicing our traditional New England virtue of restraint – stepping back from the abyss of excess represented by multi-colored lights and pop-culture figures like Santa and Frosty and all the rest of it.

If so, we’ve misjudged the nature of the holiday. Christmas – that rowdy chaotic, frolic at solstice time – is specifically about excess!

That’s how we arm ourselves to get through the lean times: by rallying our forces and our friends, eating and drinking too much, singing – in other words, by partying! Stare the lean spectre in the face and laugh! Dance on the tombstones! Share with the poor and with your neighbors and friends! We’ve got enough! We’ve got more than enough!

And sure enough, the dark time passes. We’ve danced it away again. Spring will return, as it always has. Saturnalia – excess – has triumphed over darkness once again.

Maybe that explains the warm feelings I had toward the flashing rooftop Santa I saw the other day. Maybe that’s why I smile when I drive by the two-story house across town completely outlined – roof, windows, porch, everything – in blinking, colored lights.

And maybe that’s part of the reason that my secret desire is next year to get rid of the tasteful white lights and put up a giant, blinking Santa, beaming, hauled across my lawn by Rudolph and a team of lighted reindeer, or maybe flamingoes!

Excess calls to me! This is the time of year for it, after all.

Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine.

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