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As Christmas approaches, many of us begin to look forward to the beauty of the season. Decorations in windows and front yards, nativity scenes in church lawns, and, of course, Christmas lights.


We can picture it in our minds: lights tracing the shapes of houses. Lights sparkling through evergreen trees. Lights dangling from the eaves of houses.


They come in the darkest season


Even before Christmas was “Christmas”, there was a mid-winter festival in pagan traditions. The holiday falls the same week as winter solstice – the longest night of the year.


It makes sense that at this time of year, our annual celebration is filled with lights. A season of darkness requires moments of light to lift our hearts and our spirits.


Light is closely associated with positive feelings. We need periods of light to maintain a good mood.


Light is SO important, in fact, that there is in fact a disorder associated with not getting enough of it in the winter: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Of course, Christmas lights are not sufficiently bright to interrupt SAD, so there must be a different reason why they delight us so much.



Positive associations with Christmas


The primary reason that Christmas lights delight us so much is that many of us have positive associations with Christmas.


We remember our own experiences closely associated with our childhood and our families. Gathering at a relative’s house, opening gifts, decorating the tree, telling stories and making memories. All of these are positive memories are invoked when we again see these Christmas lights.


This part of the experience would work all year round.


However, it is especially powerful when there is snow on the ground, and the nights are long and dark.



It does not depend on Christmas


Of course, if the whole effect was dependent on Christmas itself, our experience would be different. It would only last two or three weeks and then the season would magically disappear.


But it doesn’t.


Instead, we put up the lights weeks before Christmas, sometimes as soon as Thanksgiving ends, and we leave them up until spring.


These decorations, and the “show” of putting lights in unusual places, triggers our sense of whimsy and fantasy. It transforms normal houses into palaces, and common trees into magical doorways into imaginary lands.


Ultimately, it is not about Christmas, but about transforming our everyday life through the magic of lights.


So gather your family in the car one night this winter, and drive through a land transformed by Christmas lights.

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