Lighting the darkness

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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In Victoria, beyond Carbonear, there was a man on his roof in the gloom of a late Sunday afternoon, flat on his stomach on the shingles, working his way along the edge of his roof with a staple gun, while down on the ground, another man and a boy were holding the other end of a long string of Christmas lights. Norman Rockwell’s still life on the edge of an electrical emergency.

It brought me to the passing thought that if you have to staple up your Christmas lights, it’s probably better to leave them unplugged until you’re safely back on the ground again.

It’s the time

This weekend seemed to be Christmas critical mass — the weekend on which the majority of Christmas lights go up, the time at which the number of houses with their lights up outnumbers those who haven’t gotten around to putting them up yet.

There were plenty of people at it, with decorations ranging from the discrete electric candles in all the front windows to the lumen-

explosions that must bring comfort and tidings of joy to shareholders of Newfoundland Light and Power everywhere.

There are homes, after all, where the electrical panels must positively warm with the sheer amperage being hauled through them, houses with lighted candy-canes and lights around every window, the kind of houses that, once there’s reflecting snow on the ground as well, could easily guide ships in from a darkened sea.

Our house stays dark for far longer, bringing thoughts of the mansion in Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

“At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.  … And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole.”

Perhaps it’s not as bad as all that; the Christmas lights that do appear are often a single string around the front door, and perhaps a glimpse of the tip of the lighted treetop up over the living room curtains. Minimalist, to be sure.

Perhaps it would be different if we actually had an outdoor plug. — maybe a week or so before Christmas, we’d put up enough lights to let the neighbourhood know we were actually in on the game.

Not ready

But it would be a while yet.

If the truth be told, I’d like the whole Christmas experience better if we could somehow distill it to maybe two weeks around the actual day: a month ahead seems like just too much time in malls listening to the latest nine versions of “The hat I bought for Christmas is too beeee-eeg.”

Three weeks to go, and I’ve already tired of some of it.

Across the yard in the back, there’s a house that has already had a tree up outside with lights for three weeks.

Grinchiness aside, though, I have to admit one thing.

There comes a time, much closer to the actual day, when there is nothing I like better than one distant house on some darkened point of land, a few bright strings of lights whipping in the December wind, like they were calling their message right out and up and into the night sky.

It’s as if they work best as one voice calling, a singular clear tone cast out through winter’s dry thin air.

A sound where the message is clear and uncluttered, and for all that, more honest.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Victoria, Carbonear, Wales

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  • Bill Westcott
    December 09, 2010 - 15:30

    Brilliant as usual. Thanks Russell and MERRY CHRISTMAS. I always enjoy your work esp this kind of writing.