Let there be lights


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Like many people throughout our community, Debbie and I have spent quite a bit of time since Thanksgiving getting our house ready for Christmas.

First, all the big boxes, filled with decorations, were taken off the shelves in the garage. The huge, heavy box with the pre-lit, artificial tree was wrestled from its resting place on the top of the shelves. As usual, it attacked me, bounced off my head and tried to knock me to the garage floor.

I won the fight this year, but just barely. It seems that box is getting bigger and heavier every year.

Thirty years ago, we spent a lot of time and money stringing garland and greenery around the entire front of the house. We twisted white lights into the greenery. A huge, homemade star hung on the second story of the house. It was our way of saying “Merry Christmas” to the entire neighborhood.

We stopped short of the Clark Griswold’s home on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” We were young, enthusiastic, and climbing onto the roof didn’t seem at all dangerous.

This year… no garland, no strings of lights. We still like to decorate, but we’ve adapted everything to fit into an age-appropriate amount of work.

I’ve discovered the beauty and ease of a red light shining up each of the columns on the front porch. Instead of miles of greenery, there are a few well-placed wreaths. It was a lot easier getting the front of the house Christmas-ready than it was 30 years ago.

Last night, we spent a few hours driving around town looking at Christmas lights. There are definitely a lot less lights on display than there used to be in Christmas past.

My first Christmas in Wilmington was in 1976. I remember the downtown was ablaze with Christmas lights, decorations and holiday spirit. Santa’s reindeer were even caught flying over the intersection of South Street and Locust Street. Storefronts were in competition to see who had the most Christmas spirit. Stores and sidewalks were brightly lit and welcoming.

It was beautiful. It was impressive. People flocked into the downtown to shop and marvel at the decorations and to soak in the holiday spirit.

Of course, this was in the years before the big-box stores and the exodus of shops from our downtown to the shopping centers. This year, if you drive out Rombach Avenue to see all the decorations at our major shopping centers you’ll find little or nothing. The only way of knowing that many of the chain restaurants are in holiday-mode is that they put a peppermint latte on their menu.

Thankfully, most of our downtown restaurants still love to put up trees that are amazing in their holiday grandeur. The tree in the lobby of the General Denver is definitely worth a visit. They also have the tradition of hosting the Bare Boards Theatre Company during December. This year they will recreate “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. A holiday dinner will complement the intimate play. Thank you, Mark and Molly.

Timothy Larrick and his cast of local singers and dancers will put us all in the holiday mood with the annual Murphy Theatre Christmas show. This year they will present “Murphy’s Miracle on Main Street.” I think Santa loves the Murphy Theatre and the gifts they provide this community. I know that Santa loves Timothy.

Things have certainly changed in the past few decades. It used to be rare to drive through a neighborhood and see homes sitting dark during the Christmas season. Now, there are more dark houses than there are brightly-lit or mildly-decorated homes.

We enjoyed looking at the home decorations. Some of them would give Clark Griswold a run for his money. Many folks are now going super-simple by using projectors that cast snowy, sprinkley, glittery, flashy lights on their homes. Some of them look more like Halloween decorations, but at least there are lights.

As we drove around, I think we made up a new word – flung-up. If a house was barely lit, with a string of lights running from a door to a window to a bush, one of us would say, “That looks like it was flung-up.” Many homes were simply gorgeous.

Christmas will always be my favorite holiday. I’m glad we are beyond the aluminum trees that were lit with a revolving colored-light projector. I don’t miss having silver tinsel draped over everything.

I understand that things change as the years pass, but I miss not having a giant Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn. I miss not seeing reindeer flying over the streets in Wilmington. I miss not seeing all the storefronts decorated with paintings of Santa with his elves and gnomes. I even miss not hearing Christmas music everywhere you go.

Maybe, as time goes by and more Christmases are in our past, we will find ourselves at future Christmas celebrations returning to the themes of hope, peace, joy, love and the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

After all, that is what Christmas should be about.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist