Years ago, my husband, David, and his friend, Jack Braginton-Smith, then owner of Jack’s Outback in Yarmouthport, tackled what they considered a holiday heresy: displays of white Christmas lights along Route 6A.
Now for those of you who are new, Route 6A, or the Old King’s Highway, is historic district from Sandwich down through Brewster and is lined with traditional homes. At some point, it became the fashion to put white candles in the windows, in the style of Beacon Hill, or perhaps to drape a tasteful string of white lights across the bushes. But 25 years ago, few houses along the road went for anything that might be considered, heaven forbid, garish when it came to Christmas lights.
David and Jack, although both self-professed curmudgeons, were not having it. They were of the mind that Christmas was about joy, particularly as expressed in massive colored light displays. To their point, no one ever put their kids in the car to look at elegant and discrete candles in the window. Children want tree trunks wrapped in bands of color and reindeer running across the roof and maybe a ferris wheel of elves in the front yard. The more lights, the better to drive away the dark of winter.
So, a few days before Christmas, David and Jack would pool their cash and drive down Route 6A, looking for the most colorful displays. Then, they would knock on the door, and, proclaiming the surprised homeowners to be winners, present them with up to $100 in cash, depending if they came in first, second or third.
At the time, having small children and elderly parents, as well as holiday meals to prep and gifts to wrap, I thought this was shenanigans, perhaps fueled by holiday cheer. But I came to appreciate the Santa Claus spirit of it after a chance meeting with a winner who described her delight in a stranger coming to her house during the holidays and giving her 100 bucks. I should also mention the judges were nondenominational; I know at least one winning display was in honor of Hanukkah.
Route 6A’s Christmas spirit has loosened a bit in the last few years, particularly with the marvelous giant light sculptures created by Michael Magyar that dot the highway from Bourne into Barnstable. But no matter your light preference, this is a year to light it up. Add an extra string. Turn on the lasers. Heck, get out the blow up Santa. Or, as the poet Susan Cooper writes in “The Shortest Day,” build “beseeching fires.” That’s such a great word, “beseeching” and its tinge of desperation describes how so many of us feel -- hoping our light-filled yards will deliver hope and joy in this time of despair. It connects us to those around the world fighting the gloom brought on by pandemic, war or just our own thoughts.
But Cooper said it better than I can. I love the way her poem ends with the darkness of the winter solstice turning into the dawn of the new year and with our contemporary hopes for the future binding us to all those who came before us. She writes:
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.