Growing up in little Spring Valley, N.Y., a country village near New York City, but oh so far from urbanity, holiday lighting was minimal. Ostentatious wasn’t yet in, very few of us had any extra money, and cheap, overseas-made decoration wouldn’t arrive until nations recovered from the Second World War. Indoor and limited outdoor lighting depended on strings and sets kept for years, with bulb replacement just about all that was necessary.
Most people in the Rockland County of the 1940s-50s would travel to one of the five and tens or hardware stores in the Valley, Suffern, Nyack, Haverstraw or Pearl River and get fresh tinsel for the Christmas tree, perhaps a new ornament and a few seven-watt bulbs. Many would wait until Christmas Eve to decorate. Few put up elaborate outdoor lighting. Our Jewish neighbors lit Menorahs for Hanukkah. Neighbors of any persuasion were invited on the eight nights to participate in the lighting.
Downtowns were lit with heavy strings of colored bulbs across main street from telephone pole to pole. In Spring Valley, Garry Onderdonk, whose electrician father installed the lights, would have to switch each string on nightly, using a long pole. Merchants would add color to their window displays for both Christmas and Hanukkah.
In all, there was enough bright and varied lighting to make the season warm and festive. Just right, most of us thought. In keeping with both reality and our expectations
So it is with prejudiced view, or at least non-approving thought, that I cannot accept the lavish displays I now see in the suburbs, including Rockland. Some homeowners are hiring outfits that bring 10 men and a bucket loader to trim large evergreens with string after string of lights. Giant air-blown figures sway with the wind and against other lighting on the lawn. At the street is a sign proclaiming that the Disneyland spectacular was “professionally” installed.
It makes you wonder how many holiday lights there are at the unemployment office or in homes where people go to sleep solid middle class and awake in lower economic ranks.
Now, I am not blaming folks well enough off to have a design team temporarily triple their electric bill. Yet, the contrast is still there for all to see in a nation that faces Christmas 2010 more worried about debt, jobs, government viability and the national mojo than it has since the Great Depression.
But, hey, it’s holiday time, and colored lights take our minds off reality. Enjoy, please. Come January, the lights again will be white and bright. Enough that we can see what’s what. If only we then take a look. …