I had visions of Rockefeller Center dancing in my head when I heard about a tree lighting in the beach town just north of mine. Now, to be clear, I assure you I did realize there would be a difference. Like, a big one. Even as I arrived a mere twenty minutes before show time and got a spot pretty much right in front of the tree, I was excited. Even as I first took in the little tree (much smaller than I was anticipating, even for a tiny oceanside town), I was not dismayed. Because once the switch was flipped, the tree in its entirety would be transformed, set aglow by a healthy coating of spectral colors. I mean, isn’t that why we go to tree lightings? To experience that moment of contrast? To appreciate the difference?
I hate to call the holidays a distraction, because they are certainly more meaningful to me than that, but sometimes it feels as if their sole purpose is to temporarily buoy us up. From life. From reality. From depression and loneliness. From evil and despair. From your college football team not being in the playoff running this year. One of the pre-lighting speakers, some city official or other, basically asked us to—just for this moment—be happy. Just for this moment, be grateful and feel blessed. Just for this moment, celebrate. Southern California in general has been a bit gloomy and on edge this week, such that I guarantee I wasn’t the only one amongst the tree-lighting crowd who swiveled her head in between the high school show choir’s numbers, wondering if some crazy was lurking in the corner, locked and loaded. (I wish I could say I was just being dramatic, but I think for many Americans, the idea of public safety has been permanently shifted to the morbidly paranoid.)
The actual flipping of the switch (the lighting of the tree) was achingly underwhelming. Even having prepped myself for such a scaled-down version, I think I needed it to be more. More than just a faint star and one string of regular lights that you’d see on a regular house in a regular part of town. Maybe it’s that I’m struggling to feel like it’s Christmas at all, what with the temperatures being so warm and the fact that I was at the moment of lighting standing in between a palm tree and a bird of paradise plant. Maybe it’s that the holiday ornaments I bought to make a garland for my living room walls only made enough to go around three-quarters….of one wall. Or maybe it’s that I don't feel as buoyed up by the season this year. But I’ll keep trying. Because I know that for the most part, people are good. I know for the most part, I am safe. For the most part, the blessings in our lives are easy to spot and comforting to cling to. And most of all, I know that it’s Christmas. (Despite the fact that I’m going to spend the day tomorrow at the beach in 80 degree weather.)