December 15th, 2006

Purpose of Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

As I drove to Institute last night, I passed several houses that had their Christmas lights up. A thought struck me: What in the world are the purpose of Christmas lights?

Honestly! Why do people climb their roof, risking breaking their neck or some other body part, all for a few lights? Like trees, snowmen, Santa, reindeer, and all the other commercialized crapola people focus on during this season, lights have nothing to do with Christmas! So why bother?

Granted, I can understand going through the painstaking process of putting up lights if you’re going to wow the world with a video like this, but any other reason falls short of rationale, in my mind.

I can see a reader or two trying to argue that Christ is the light of the world, and therefore the Christmas lights in a way reference the Savior. I don’t think it would be too non sequitur, then, to argue that I’d be referencing the Savior by flashing my brights at oncoming traffic while running errands. Clearly, Christmas lights have nothing to do with Christ.

The history of Christmas lights is quite recent, and pretty lame. In no way is there a desire to “honor tradition” by continuing the practice, since there has never been any meaningful purpose to speak of.

Growing up, I’d often hear others speaking ill of those in the neighborhood who didn’t participate in the practice of stringing lights along their house. Is this type of judgment a common occurrence? Is somebody’s “holiday cheer” measured by their participation in purposeless practices?

Perhaps these people realized what Christmas was really about, and spent their time, energy, and resources pursuing that purpose. Perhaps.

26 Responses to “Purpose of Christmas Lights”

  1. Kelly Winterton
    December 15, 2006 at 3:39 pm #

    Hey yeh! That’s it! People put up lights so their neighbors won’t speak ill of them.

  2. Kelly Winterton
    December 15, 2006 at 3:40 pm #

    But I’m sure for some of those huge home displays, it is the vain goal of outdoing the others on the street.

  3. Connor
    December 15, 2006 at 3:42 pm #

    Kelly, agreed. It seems to be a very vain practice (for some) when the season should be teaching us humility, service, and love.

    Honestly though, some neighborhoods seemingly scorn those households that don’t participate. I don’t get it. Isn’t Christmas about Christ? Who gives a flingin’ rip about lights..?

  4. Kelly Winterton
    December 15, 2006 at 4:00 pm #

    I suppose that some Mormons feel it their duty to display lights on their homes, because SLC Temple Square does. But the Ogden Temple has no lights. I don’t think the Bountiful, Provo, Jordan River have lights either. It is church policy that no church meeting houses are to have lights.

  5. Kelly Winterton
    December 15, 2006 at 4:02 pm #

    I seem to remember seeing lights on the St. George Temple. Does anyone have knowledge about other Temples that do or do not have lights?

  6. mother
    December 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm #

    Where have I failed??? This from a son who was raised in a home where we faithfully put up over 40 boxes of Christmas decor with over 100 nativity sets . . . . .
    Why? I love creating a magical month for my children that is different from the rest where we talk every day about Christ and we are focused on service to others and giving to others.
    And yes, it’s a bit bonkers. And every year I get excited about it . . .
    But the outdoor lights are truly a competitive field . . . it’s hilarious as we drive up and down analyzing . . . how dumb. But it’s part of the magic . . . .
    We have so little magic left in our world. Everything is so literal and real and practical. We can indulge ourselves a bit in nonsensical creativity . . . even if it’s only displayed in commercial lights arranged in death-defying ways..

  7. Connor
    December 16, 2006 at 12:25 pm #

    Nativities are great (and my mom must have set some sort of world record w/ how many she owns and displays). But the lights have no meaningful purpose! I don’t mind creativity, and I don’t mind “magic” (Temple Square is awesome!) but we shouldn’t look down on others who see no point in it and wish to not participate. “Magic” is subjective to each person’s interpretation. I might find it magical to reverently celebrate the holiday w/ loved ones and donate our extra money to those who are less fortunate. Some may find it magical to spend their time down at a soup kitchen. Each person has their own interpretation of how best to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. “As for me and my house”, I don’t care much for the lights. :)

  8. John Anderson
    December 16, 2006 at 5:30 pm #

    I don’t think it’s correct to say they have no meaningful purpose when its evident that they do—why else would people bother to put them up each year? :)

    The lights (originally candles) on trees and homes are a reminder of the star. For me, its a symbol that points back to the original nativity.

  9. Connor
    December 16, 2006 at 5:42 pm #

    The lights (originally candles) on trees and homes are a reminder of the star. For me, its a symbol that points back to the original nativity.

    I’m going to conduct an informal survey among friends and ward members today and tomorrow, asking “What do Christmas Lights represent, if anything?” I’ll be interested to see if more than a couple make the connection between house lights and the star that appeared at Christ’s birth. I myself have never made that connection before. I suspect that people “bother to put them up each year” simply because it’s something everybody does. You know, that whole “traditions of the fathers” thing. :)

  10. jeff
    December 17, 2006 at 7:39 pm #

    A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
    Its loveliness increases; it will never
    Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
    A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
    Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
    –John Keats

    Can’t they just be pretty and, therefore, have value?

    I hate the commercialization of Christmas, but I don’t think that lights really fit into that (except for the “keep up with the Joneses” attitude, but I don’t think that’s as pervasive as you make it sound). Lights are pretty, and they make me happy. No other reason is necessary.

  11. Connor
    December 17, 2006 at 10:52 pm #

    Lights are pretty, and they make me happy.

    Then why just for Christmas? If lights make you happy, and you want to be happy all year round, why not keep the lights up the entire year? Ah, but then you’ll be the brunt of jokes by others who wonder why you’ve yet to take the lights down, for they are “Christmas” lights.

    The results of the informal survey are in! I had a couple people argue that the colors are symbolic (white represents Christ, red represents blood (for the Atonement), etc.). A few said that their only value and purpose is for decoration (as my mom and Jeff have argued). One person claimed that they represent the star, as John stated.

    Symbolism can be applied to anything. If you look hard enough, you can find meaning and value in any object and try to make more of it than it really is. But I think the important thing is to look at the historical background and analyze why we do the things that we do, so that they don’t become “vain repetitions” and “traditions of [our] fathers”, actions without purpose or meaning.

  12. Naiah Earhart
    December 18, 2006 at 8:32 am #

    Honestly, coming from the light-starved north (sitting in front of my ‘go-lite’ light box as I type this…), they brighten things up in the darkest time of year. That’s it, purely psychological. As the sun comes less and less, and we humans have progressed beyond campfires, we seek to illuminate the ever-darkening world around us.

    How many more days until the solstice???

  13. Connor
    January 8, 2007 at 4:57 pm #

    I just came across this comment on a post about Santa, which cites a few interesting verses in Jeremiah related to Christmas decorum:

    Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
    For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
    They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. (Jeremiah 10:2-4)

  14. kc
    December 3, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    If any body has ever seen a five year old boy or girls face when he or she see the lights that people risk their necks to put up then you would know that it’s not about the reasoning behind it all, it’s about the joy. I have younger siblings and many many very young relatives that all enjoy the spectacular lights and the not so spectacular lights. I love to see the look on my grandfathers face when he sees a house with just plain white lights. I love to watch my little sister helping my mother and grandmother decorate the tree, even if it is a fake one. All of these are “GREAT” reasons to celibate Christmas with lights. Yes it is pretty ridicules that some neighborhoods can’t get off of their high horses and let people use the lights for the right reason but you’ll have that with humans. We are a selfish species for the most part. No, not the for most part. There are still many many very good people out there putting lights up just to share their joy… God bless every one and have a, joyfully light filled, marry Christmas. And yes, in my house The lights do represent the light of Christ, inside and out. Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

  15. Doug Bayless
    December 3, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    :)

    Connor, I’m with your Mom, kc, and most of the other commenters on this one.

    Although I appreciate your pointing out that we shouldn’t be so dang competitive, judgmental, and over-the-top with ’em (points well taken about anything!) my boys and I have been putting up Christmas lights for the last few days and really, really enjoying it for the “magic” and heartwarming reminder of all that we celebrate Christmas for.

    (I’m reasonably sure that’s the rationale behind the lights at Temple Square and the Mesa Temple and places like that as well.)

  16. Angela Lopez
    December 9, 2008 at 7:00 pm #

    Excuse me but this so called “crapola” is what puts smiles on childrens’ faces every year and what makes christmas fun!

  17. Brennan
    December 10, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Connor just so you know… The inside and outside of my house has christmas lights… On every night! Because I dont have lamps! haha

  18. Kelly W.
    December 10, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    Are your lights made in China? I don’t think the Chinese even know what Christmas is. I think the Chinese only see the manufacture of Christmas lights as a way to make money. But I’ll bet the Power Companies love the lights – another money-maker. Christmas seems to be all about money………

  19. Carborendum
    December 10, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    This is much ado about nothing.

    Honestly, Connor, if someone wants to risk life and limb to put on a show for their family and neighbors, let them. I don’t because I can’t stand heights. I’ll light up my tree because of TRADITION. I don’t light up my house because it’s DANGEROUS.

    Some light up their house. Others don’t light up at all. I don’t begrudge either extreme.

    If you don’t think it’s worth it, don’t do it. But don’t be guilty of what you accuse others of (sneering because of participation or lack thereof in a widespread tradition).

    It’s just a stupid tradition. Most traditions ARE STUPID. But there is something innate in the human being that seeks out traditions and wants to carry them on. As long as there is no harm, traditions help define families, cultures, & nations. This is the benefit of all traditions, including Christmas lights.

  20. Carborendum
    December 10, 2008 at 12:37 pm #

    Connor’s Mom, I love you.

  21. The Wife
    December 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm #

    I don’t often chime in on Connor’s blog, but I just can’t resist right now.

    I first would like to point out that this post was written before we were dating.

    The conclusion I’ve always had is that it’s totally okay to have traditions for no specific reason, when those things are FUN! Sometimes, that’s the very reason we do it.

    In this specific case, lights are pretty. They’re special because we only do it once a year. They brighten the darkness of winter (this is especially important to me, being from AZ originally). They cheer the hearts of those that see them. Whether or not they represent something specific, they do represent Christmas. What Christmas means to you is something you establish for yourself.

    I think (hope) Connor’s finally starting to see the light. (pun intended)

  22. Carborendum
    December 10, 2008 at 5:20 pm #

    What? Connor has a mother AND a wife????
    go figure.

  23. Spectator
    December 19, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    You know this is a season about giving. It is a season about service and being together. Joy, happiness, and Love seem to abound. Why is it that lights can’t be a part of that? What purpose do lights serve? I’ll tell you, lights on houses bring joy of the season for those who take the time to see them. My wife and children love to see the lights. It makes them so happy to drive around and see all of the fun lights and decorations. Believe it or not the best ones to see are the ones that people go all out.
    Everything comes down to the spirit in which they are being enjoyed. To come down on putting up lights would mean coming down on Temple Square too. One could very easily argue that it is just one big ploy to show how great Mormons are. They want to say they are better than everyone. Obviously this is not the case it is just to bring joy to others. Is there anything wrong with putting up lights? No, there isn’t but there is something wrong with the spirit of criticism that is entertained from year to year. Whether it be through pressure from neighbors or internet slander. Let it be what ever it is. But even among all the commercialism that is derived from Christmas there are still those out there doing it right. Many people decorate their homes and I am grateful to them. I can’t afford it or I would do it myself. God bless those who work for the spirit of the season. May it continue all year long and my I be able to show that spirit like they do.

  24. Jim
    December 19, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    What I like best about this discussion is the thinking and questioning. Christmas seems to be an inherited tradition for Mormons, so Connors questioning of lights is a great start.

    As for the holiday itself, I believe it has prechristian origins. Neopagans celebrate the holiday, but don’t call it christmas, so there is a possibility that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the Christian faith.

    The LDS tradition departs somewhat on the point of Christ’s birth, some express the belief that christ was born on April 6. However, there is some despute as to if that is acurate. As some LDS authorities disagree.
    http://www.mormonfortress.com/april6b.html

    All I can say to connor is please keep exploring and questioning. There are a number of things which I think the LDS faith has inherited from the larger christian body, and general culture, but maybe thats another topic

  25. Kelly W.
    December 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm #

    The LDS hymnbook says that Christ was born on a cold winter’s night that was so deep, yet the Doctrine and Covenants says Christ was born on April 6th, and Luke chapter 2 clearly states that Christ was born on Passover. Let’s go with the Bible and put up the lights on Passover.

  26. Chris
    December 8, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    Good topic. When I see the lights I see how Satan is in control of this system. The scripture that you stated clearly informs Christians to not participate in heathen or Pagan customs. The light of Jesus is his word. It was Constatine in the council of Nicea 325 ad who decided that Christians would share in Pagan customs. Even Easter is named after the fertility goddes Eostre. It is sad to see that Christians have been duped into making these traditions their own without knowing the truth. This is not to offend the Pagans, but is to remind Christians that if we are to be a light to others we need to know the true meanings of what we do. I grew up loving the lights. I thought they were special. Now knowing what they really mean, it bothers my conscience to put them up so I don’t anymore. However I know people still love them so I never tell them they shouldn’t and ask that they don’t say I should. The constitution gives all Americans the right to believe in what they choose.

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