Lit Up

December 1, 2022

Cooking, college football, groggy mornings and switching out fall decorations for winter, such are the traditions of Thanksgiving weekend and I, for one, fully indulged. The golden light of October has been replaced with darkness. Gone are the moody evening skies, now all we have left are bleak afternoons. 

Autumn is my favorite time of year and I dread its conclusion, I could sink into a full-on seasonal depression if it weren’t for the holiday lights. But those lights! There is little better than holiday lights. As my friend Bernice Radle put it “Christmas lights make everything better.” And I can’t argue. 

I love all holiday lights and how they brighten up the darkest time of year. The best thing about the lights, and all holiday decorations for that matter, my absolute favorite part is how unselfish the it is to decorate the exterior of your home. Dressing up your facade is a civic act in its purest form, and it’s incredibly community minded!

Very rarely do we sit outside our own homes and stare at them. Ok, ok-  I may have done this quite a bit last year when we first bought our house, but I have cut back considerably since then. Promise. No- typically we are in our homes are we are away from them. So putting time, money and effort into prettying up the outside of your home is really done for everyone else. 

We decorate for our neighbors, for the passersby, for the walkers. When we decorate the exterior of our homes, we are doing it for our fellow community members, we do it because we want them to feel festive. We aim to delight and it’s fun to get into the spirt of the season with other people. It lifts everyone up. 

Outdoor decorations are such a great reminder of how why aesthetics matter- which is a reminder we desperately need. Holiday lights are so much more than a celebration of a particular day, they are a celebration of a community, a gift we give to one another to brighten up the season and provide one another with a little more joy. 

Consider the amount of time and money some people put into decorating their homes for the holidays, the real Clark Griswolds out there, they do it all of you. All the exterior decorations were done with other people in mind. It’s the most thoughtful of gifts and never fails to bring people a little more light and happiness during a dark time of year. 

Decorating your home for others is such selfless act and it is incredible how many people do it. These festive bringers of joy risk life and limb to add a little beauty to the lives of a bunch of people they will never see, never greet and that will never tell them thanks. This is the epitome of being community minded. 

This extends beyond our private lives too. It is well established and even tradition that local government is welcome to spend tax payer money on holiday decorations. It is telling in regards to what it says about our values. The same towns that refuse to enforce building codes and argue against design review districts spend enormous sums turning downtown into a winter wonderland, and no one thinks twice about it. 

Design matters, decorations are important, aesthetics are a big deal! Think how sad the holidays would feel if no one put up any lights. How bleak they would be without a little whimsy? The season is more fun because we make it more fun. So many share in the effort, which is what makes it even better. 

The holidays remind us what it means to be civic minded. It is a time of year we long to be with one another and so we flock to the skating rinks and the winter markets. Downtown fills up and we revel in being in out in public. It is because we long for a sense of community that the holidays are such a special time of year. 

The gifts are nice and the eggnog is a delight, but the best part of the season is how the community comes together. The decorations, the tree lightings, the street festivals, all of the best part of the holiday season are the things we do for one another and with one another. 

We would do well and remember what we like so much about the holidays. People want to spend time in pretty places all year round and we should continue to invest in improving aesthetics in our towns. Public space is crucial for bringing people together, so we need to make sure it’s active in every season and always inviting. Doing good for others feels good every single day and the more we do for one another, the happier we are. 

Everyone has their own reason to celebrate this time of year, but what strikes me is that we all seem to celebrate this season in a similar manner. Regardless of faith, or lack thereof for that matter, during the holidays we give back, we do more for others, we spend more time in the community and we become better versions of ourselves. When I think of the holidays- what I love the most is that while this time of year it would be easy to stay inside and burrow down, that’s not what happens. We decorate, we go outside, we sing songs, and we bundle up and gather in our common places. We celebrate the lives we share with one another and I can’t imagine a greater cause. 

you may also like

May 10, 2024

Better, Not Bigger

Last week I spent a couple of days with the Civic Pride Campaign team in Marshalltown, Iowa.  We spent those 3 days discussing our strategies for their year long effort

April 26, 2024

Smokes on a Train

I am leery of writing on the differences between the United States and Europe. I often get negative feedback as people feel slighted that I have compared the two because

March 22, 2024


Some were worried, others were concerned. We got lots of advice.  Amber and I were cautioned numerous times to be very, very careful. Friends and family, out of an abundance