COLUMN: Finding the lights in the darkness

I grew up in a house that went all out for Christmas. My mom, who to this day I am convinced is a certified elf, decorates every room of her house from floor to ceiling with a different theme.

Outside, an enormous lighted wreath that once hung on Main Street in downtown Niles (and was later purchased at some rummage sale or another) hangs on her utility pole. Vintage lighted figurines, garland, bright red bows, twinkle lights and wooden cutouts adorn the front lawn and exterior of the house.

At 30 years old, I still decorate my mom’s Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving every year. As a teenager and young adult, I remember slightly dreading the task of hauling out boxes and boxes of garland, lights, figurines, stockings and bows, each with its own specific place.

Nonetheless, for 30 years we have made an event of blaring Burl Ives and Dean Martin while pulling out decades’ worth of memories in the form of homemade ornaments.

This year, I loved every minute of it — and very much looked forward to the event.

In spite of my festive upbringing, I never had my own Christmas tree at my home (unless you count a miniature, pre-decorated thing my personal elf gave me). I live alone and in normal years don’t spend much time at home, so it always seemed unnecessary to decorate a tree just for me.

This year, I am home almost all of the time, and I needed all the Christmas spirit I could get, so I put up my own Christmas tree and decorated it just like my favorite elf taught me.

Last night, I took a drive over to Bell Road, where a Niles family has truly embraced the whole “deck the halls” concept for more than 20 years. Most Niles residents know all about this Christmas wonderland, which offers a free show of elaborate moving lights timed to classic Christmas music, which plays from a radio station that viewers can tune into to get the full experience.

As I pulled up, a bus full of residents at a local nursing home were blissfully watching the show, and “oohs” and “ahs” could be heard from children in cars nearby — but also from grown adults sitting alone in their cars.

On the way home, I noticed that many more houses than usual had gone all out on the Christmas décor. Inflatable snowmen, giant snow globes, glittering lights, wreaths and bows are on more lawns than not. Inside almost every home, glistening Christmas trees shined brightly out a window.

Perhaps this extra effort to our lawns is the result of so many people being cooped up at home and needing something to do, which I’m sure is part of it. I can’t help but think, however, that many homeowners are going the extra mile to spread some joy and cheer to their neighbors.

In a time when it is unsafe to sit on Santa’s lap, gather with extended family for presents, host holiday parties and even Christmas carol in groups, southwest Michigan is still finding ways to celebrate safely.

Though many of us are eager to flip the calendar at the end of the month and put 2020 behind us, there is no doubt that this largely terrible year has had its benefits.

We’ve learned not to take time with family or tedious traditions for granted. Grown adults find as much joy in lights as children. We make the best of our situations, and take the time and effort to spread joy with others.

We’ve learned that the darker the night, the brighter the lights shine.


Ambrosia Neldon is the general manager at Leader Publications. She can be reached by phone at (269) 687-7700, or by email at

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