There was a Christmas light illumination “party” on our street last weekend. At 5 o’clock on Sunday, a bunch of us turned on our Christmas lights at the same time and then went out onto our doorsteps and into the street to raise toast to each other and have a distanced chat. Some folks strolled up and down with their kids and/or dogs to see the decorations, and two women in a flat down the road played upbeat holiday tunes from their front garden. It felt a bit like Halloween and a bit like New Year’s and a bit like an actually happy holiday.
We don’t personally know the vast majority of people on our street, though I’ve come to know many more of them “virtually” since the pandemic started. I was already part of a private social media group for the road, which mainly consisted of sporadic requests for spare parking vouchers and offers of old toys, furniture and gardening stuff whenever someone was clearing out their flat. It was also used to organize the annual summer street party and discuss whatever happened to be occupying the residents of our road at any given time (usually parking wardens or cars parked illegally or other parking-related issues).
But in March, we started using it for organizing community aid: offering to pick up shopping or medicine for neighbors, walking pets, or checking in with people who were on their own and might need a helping hand or just a chat. As the months dragged on, some neighbors organized online art classes and other fun distractions, and there were regular updates on where you could buy flour and eggs and seeds for planting vegetables, all things that were in short supply for a while. And when we were still “clapping for our carers,” those of us who participated would nod, wave and smile at each other as we stood on our doorsteps every Thursday evening, just acknowledging each other’s existence at a time when we were all feeling isolated and afraid.
The Christmas lights feel like a similar acknowledgment, a recognition that this is a holiday period like no other and, as such, it calls for even more tenderness toward our fellow human beings, and more light to drive away the darkness. I was surprised to find this sentiment echoed in an essay I read this week, which was mostly about looking into other people’s windows and hence their lives (or what you imagine their lives to be), but also partly about Christmas decorations:
“All the trees and the string lights and the decorated windows on my block are speaking mutely to one another, pieces of a larger project, acknowledging that we are in at least some small way not alone, and that who we are is created as much by our proximities as by any choices we more consciously or deliberately might make.”
When the sun goes down, I turn our Christmas lights on for us because they make our flat feel cozy. But I also turn them on for everyone else on the street, so when our neighbors look out their windows, they see something bright and pretty in the cold night. And when I look out my window and see the twinkling lights and candles and Christmas trees of our neighbors, I feel like they’re partially for us, too. We’re sending out little signals to say we’re here, and we know you’re there, and while we may all still be isolated and afraid, we see each other, and we care.