It is Epiphany, people, and do you know what that means? Okay, well, yes, it means it’s the day on which we (western Christians, anyway) mark the visit of the three kings, or wise men, to the baby Jesus. It’s also known as Twelfth Night – the “twelfth day of Christmas,” as that annoyingly catchy song has it. (If you saw the Stratford Festival‘s production of Shakespeare’s comedy of that name a couple of years back, lucky you!)
But it also means, to my mind and I hope to the minds of all right-thinking people, that after today Christmas is over and done, and it is time to move on. And that in turn means: as lovely as your Christmas tree and your outdoor Christmas lights may have been again this year, it is time for them to go. Christmas lights still shining in late January or even February (and sometimes even later than that) are just, well – not right.
However, I wanted to say in these waning hours of the Christmas season how particularly enjoyable I have found looking at Christmas lights this year.
When I was a little girl growing up at the Manse, my mum used to find it a real treat to “go for a drive and see the lights.” I kind of wondered what the fuss was about. (And in retrospect I think one reason she liked it was simply that it was a chance to get out of the house she shared with a husband and four little kids, and away from her minister’s-wife and professional [she was a high-school teacher] duties for a little while. It was a respite, basically.) She especially loved to go look at the lights when we were visiting a city, like say Peterborough, where my grandparents, her parents, had retired. I think she enjoyed seeing a lot of displays all at once, and comparing and contrasting different households’ efforts.
Our own household’s effort at the Manse in Queensborough was never particularly spectacular. We had one string of multicoloured lights like the ones in the picture at the top of this post, and my father the minister – who didn’t put much store in anything along the lines of aesthetics or decorative work – would, grudgingly and after many reminders, put a minimalist effort into getting them strung up along the roofline of the Manse’s front porch. They were never remotely like those straight-as-an-arrow displays that many homes had; we kids used to joke that Dad kept tossing the lights up in the general direction of the nails installed for that purpose, and once they stayed he left them alone. So they tended to be a bit droopy and helter-skelter. But at least they shone out into the darkness of winter nights, and there is a lot to be said for that.
Which Raymond and I have really come to appreciate this winter as we have been driving back and forth between Queensborough and Montreal. Usually we drive Q’boro-ward on Friday night after work, and we take a backroads route that we found by happy accident after being stuck too many times in awful Highway 401 traffic backups around construction near Gananoque, Ont. We get off the dreaded 401 at Brockville and drive northwest through little places like Addison and Toledo and Mott’s Mills and Frankville and Rideau Ferry and Lombardy and then the “big city” of Perth, and once we get to Perth it’s only a blessed hour and 10 or 15 minutes along good old Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) and Queensborough Road to our happy unfinished work-in-progress Manse in downtown Queensborough.
And as we drive along those dark country roads and through tiny country communities, we have been thrilled by, and appreciative of, the festive lights we have seen. My mum may have liked to see lights all together in the city, but I think I prefer them coming at us individually, through the deep darkness of the rural night. You are driving along in darkness and snow, and it’s kind of a lonely feeling even if you are in a nice warm car, but seeing a display of festive lights at a house (or better yet, a village or a town) makes you feel less lonely. When people have really gone out and done their best to make a beautiful seasonal display, then it’s just that much more warming and cheering.
So more power to you, Christmas-lights-people! But now, after Epiphany, the magic is done and the lights have to go. We will see and enjoy them again next Christmas, next winter. Now, the nights just have to be dark.
Which perhaps makes the lights of home – our happy Manse in lovely Queensborough – more welcome than ever.