Friday, December 5, 2014

Garlands and lights, small towns celebrate December holidays

We came through a small town west of the Cities the other day which was all decked out for the season. 

Christmas decorations of vintage origin dressed up the streets. 

The holiday display began at the very edge of town, where the first buildings sprang up. 

The lighting continued through the next section of businesses and main street residences and brought its old-fashioned charm to the end of town. I could picture the sweet twinkle of lights if you drove this way at night.

We commented on the spirit of these small towns to keep an identity and be stewards of the community traditions that often link many generations. 

Years ago, when everything wasn't lit at night as it is now, you can imagine the joy and wonder in the small towns whose streets through the Christmas season were brightened by municipal holiday lights.

The lights were simple (and charming because of their simplicity). They were saved forever and put up each year.

Elaborate lighting and presentation are the norm almost everywhere these days. Society is always craving "more." Pretty and sufficient are no longer enough. We expect something to be continually novel if it's to interest us.

This is why this season brings out an appreciation for yesterday in many of us. The past evokes remembrances of more easily appreciated ways and times.

The small town lights seen with my husband called to mind my hometown at Christmas when I was small.

The electric glow of the December streets after dark created an aura of anticipation for the happy arrival of Christmas Day as the town trundled through weeks of short daylight and the first cold snaps of winter.

We shopped for presents (as a family, probably making one Christmas shopping trip downtown each year). We went after supper – in the cold and dark - after the dishes were done.

In other blogs I’ve written about Christmas shopping as a girl. My brother and me - at some age allowed to go off together on our own - covered the few blocks of shops handily in the time given to get our purchasing done.

With spending money in our pockets we were as much on the lookout for what we hoped to receive as what we'd set out to buy. We were independent, out in the crowds and Christmas was coming. Nothing could have been finer.

These shopping trips, paltry as a grand total as they'd be if actually tallied up, persist as a pleasant memory of holiday expeditions carried out a hundred times.

Strings of festive street lights and the ringing of bells on opened store doors stand out as impressions made on two young kids.The cheerful lighting made us welcome and the store bells ushered us into the warmth inside. 

My friend Barb also has a story of small town lights. Eighteen years ago she and her husband found themselves in one of the range cities, the catch phrase for the rugged mining towns that dot the Minnesota Iron Range.

Dark comes early in December in the north country. Dusk is a brushstroke away from the pitch black of long cold night. They were still a good stretch from home as the light began to steal away.  

The town's old-time Christmas decorations impressed Barb as she noticed them from the car. 

They warmed her through and through, catching her (as they did) at a tired moment at the end of the day. Their day had been spent checking out assisted living places for a relative (the reason for the trip to "the range"). 

Anyone who has done this kind of looking can appreciate the weariness that hits after the search has gone on for a period of time. Barb was in need of a lift and the Christmas lights delivered. 

"The garland strung across the main street was still the real thing" she notes of the transformed street that filled her with delight. 

By “the real thing” she alludes to the evergreen boughs that made up the garlands. 

The fragrant branches would have been gathered from surrounding forestland to compose the green living banner above the commercial district that marked downtown. 

This is not done so commonly now, which makes the recollection extra special to her.

"All garlands arched to the corner of the main street in the form of a crown where a bright star was hung, with all its old wattage light bulbs shining like the North Star.”

“It was snowing lightly" she adds, underscoring the charm a soft drift of snowflakes lends to a holiday scene.

 "It was magical and romantic," she says of the experience. "That old town charm . . . I felt like a little girl again in the tiny port city of Superior, Wisconsin."   

Ro Giencke - December 5, 2014

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