All I want for Christmas is: illumination.

Light is a gift. Fire was a game changer for the cave family. Chevy Chase became the ultimate bad light bulb hunter and a maestro of light in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation all because he wanted to give his family the brightest house on the block. And don’t forget, a child bringing light to the world is the whole reason for Christmas.

Gifts of light can stake a place in our hearts and in our memories stronger than any physical gift under the tree. I will never forget the year we purchased a Black Hills spruce for our backyard. I know how much Rubbertoes (my guy) hates stringing lights so I didn’t dare suggest dressing it up for the holidays. Yet, that Christmas I looked out the window and found someone (my own sweet Rubbertoes) had festooned the little fellow in blankets of white Christmas lights. Splendiforous coniferous.

In our old neighborhood in North Carolina, we used to set out luminaries every Christmas Eve. Volunteers from the neighborhood garden club would drop off white paper bags and tealight candles and dump a pile of sand at the local park. On Christmas Eve afternoon, we would take the kids with their sand shovels down the street to the park to get buckets of sand. We then shoveled the sand into the bags, placed them along the curb of our yard, and centered a candle in the sand. (The sand kept the lit candle in place and kept the bags from blowing away on windy nights.) Then when it got dark, we lit the luminaries and strolled through our neighborhood following luminary trails until we were tired.

Since moving to Minnesota, we have a new Christmas Eve tradition: the Christmas light display drive-by. With the Christmas tunes vibrating through the car, we travel the dark streets looking for the best, blow-our-minds light shows. And we vote: on the elegant presentation of all-white lights and strategically placed pine boughs and red bows, on the tacky-from-one-end-of-the-yard-to-the-other balloon Santas, on the amazing effort that combines light and altruism by putting together one heck of a show synchronized with holiday music on a specified channel of the radio and encouraging all visitors to leave a can of food for the food shelf.

Many towns give light through holiday parades, but few can compare to Holidazzle, which is a festival of lights in the Twin Cities. For many years, volunteers transformed into Christmas trees, snowflakes, elves, and all things Christmas-related skipped down Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall alongside light-laden floats. And they did this nearly every night during the month of December, in rain and in snow, in freezing temperatures that turn your nose Rudolph red and your feet into blocks of ice as chilly as the winter lakes in Minnesota. Even though Holidazzle has changed location and configuration, it is still a light dazzler. Bundle up the kids (think lots of layers), grab a Thermos of hot chocolate, and go.

Sometimes the gift of light comes at you from nowhere. Have you ever been driving ten hours to get home for Christmas and cast a weary glance into the night and see on a far hill in the midst of miles of country a single tree lit up like Rockefeller Center? Gives you that warm feeling, doesn’t it? Think about it. Someone decorated that tree, stretched miles of extension cords, just for you.

So may your holiday be filled with light—whether you are walking the sparkly streets of New York or skiing through the quiet woods.


This year we are all hunkered down in our socially distance burrows. It seems dark in here. But we can always find light. We just have to look for it.

For a short story in the tradition of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, check out “Christmas Unplugged.” And have a happy and well-lit holiday.