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Let There Be Lights

By James Utt

When it comes to the many holidays celebrated in this country, my default disposition is often a combination of iconoclast and curmudgeon. With the coming of this holiday season, I had to struggle to keep these forces at bay.

In late October I was walking down Forest Ave to visit my friends at Bushards when I noticed that crews were already stringing lights around the trees. This before Halloween? This to light up our city so as to better celebrate a pre-Christian Celtic festival thought by many over the centuries to be a time of communing with the dead?

Now it is a time for merchants to make money selling candy, costumes, and objects to decorate yards. Aside from the darling young children in their first angel outfits, it is a time for older kids to, well, just act stupid. I remember our first Halloween in Laguna. Late that night the doorbell rang, and I saw two teenage boys running away. Opening the door, I found a burning paper bag that was filled with…yes, you guessed it. Welcome to Laguna, trick or treat.

Okay, curmudgeon, back in the cellar so I can finish this column

I grew up in Santa Ana and can remember the early 1950s. Main Street would have Christmas decorations strung across the street, and they were usually put up two weeks before the holiday itself. But one year the city put them up three weeks before Dec. 25! All my relatives agreed, “Oh, this is just too early. Why, Thanksgiving was just a few days ago.”

Well, there is no “too early” anymore.

I visited South Coast Plaza on Nov. 12 and was gob smacked by what I saw. The place looked like Santa and all his elves had been working 24/7 to get ready for Christmas. This was over six weeks before the events in Bethlehem were said to have taken place. By the way, more and more scholars, and I mean Christian scholars not naughty skeptics like me, believe Jesus was actually born in early fall, possibly September. That would certainly add a wrinkle to holiday lighting.

Back to poor Thanksgiving for a moment. It seems more and more to be squeezed between the sugar high of Halloween and the over commercialism of Christmas. Do we really think of the lights on our streets to be Thanksgiving lights? Heck, we have plenty to be thankful for: we live in the best town in the county, our football team achieved great success, and we can currently enjoy the pleasures that the Sawdust Winter Fantasy brings.

As I was researching this column, I kept running into stories about how holiday decorations make people feel better. They seemed to bring up pleasant feelings of nostalgia and childlike excitement. Perhaps we need these feelings to combat much of what we see in our daily lives.

As I write this column on Nov. 14, our state is suffering through the most devastating fires in our history. Lives are being lost by the score, homes by the thousands are nothing more than rubble. It is a tragedy beyond words.

On Nov. 9 in Ventura County, there was another mass shooting leaving 13 dead, including the brave sheriff sergeant who gave his life trying to save others. A 29-year veteran, he was one year away from retirement.

In the United States, that was the 307th mass shooting this year alone. Compare that figure to any other developed country. It is a sad and depressing comparison.

Just this morning, I saw a report that hate crimes in the United States rose 17 percent in 2017.

We need things to make us feel good, to warm our hearts and, perhaps, our souls. And the beauty of our town with its alighted trees does just that. It gladdens our spirits as we walk among friends we don’t yet know. Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” I don’t know about forever, but our town, festooned with lights, is a much needed joy, for right now.

So, with the iconoclast and curmudgeon locked in my basement, I am going downtown to enjoy the lights and the happiness they engender.


James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He really does have a sentimental side.





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