All of the lights

. . .

“Those Christmas lights light up the street

Down where the sea and city meet

May all your troubles soon be gone

Oh Christmas lights, keep shining on”

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Lights on Belmont Rd.

One, two, three, four. . .twenty-seven houses. From Belmont to Circular Road, the adorned houses averaged 10 per mile, a hearty number so early in December. Remembering the drives to and from my Grandma’s house counting Christmas lights, I found myself recreating this competition on my 2.5 mile run through Belfast.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Derek and I would sit in the backseat of our parents’ car with our eyes frantically glued to each house whizzing by, hoping to see a glimmer of light in the windows. “Does it count if they’ve decorated but the lights aren’t turned on?” I’d ask. “Duh, Hill, the lights need to be on. No cheating.” We’d draw in the condensation forming on the windows, keeping a tally of our scores, humming along to the Christmas music if it was mum’s car, or WDVE if it was dad’s. 


Me and Derek Christmas circa 1999

Those 15 minute drives were always spent in awe, filled with the joy emanating from gingerbread houses lining the hilly country roads.  Each dip gave me butterflies, anticipating the surprises we’d find at Grandma’s house. Our fingers were always crossed for a box of Kraft spiral mac ’n cheese and Edy’s ice cream.


As I got older, I still continued to play the game, often on solo drives between my mom’s house and my dad’s house (the new and extended version).  I gradually watched houses change their Christmas decor and could remember which ones dazzled me the most: the ranch style home just after the first turn onto Valley Road with its tree-lined pond, or the one with the massive blow-up snow globe, bigger than the house itself. Although very excited to celebrate my first Christmas away from home overseas, I’ll miss taking that drive to Grandma’s house, knowing my family is on the other side of her door.

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Advent liturgy in the Belfast flat

Welcoming new traditions this Christmas, I’ve had the (very scary and anxiety-inducing) privilege of lighting the Advent candles at Garnerville Presbyterian.  Think about how nervous you get when it’s your turn to pass the wobbly tray of communion wine to the next person in the pew and multiply it by 150 eyes staring at you and 15 strides toward the lectern with the chance to fall flat on your face – and that’s how it feels to light the Advent candle. Now that I feel responsible for the observation of Advent existing at Garnerville, I’ve spent more time thinking about the lights of Advent and the Christmas lights on our houses.  With each week in Advent, we light one more candle, just as we slowly see more homes lighting up for the Christmas season. 


Garnerville Presbyterian Advent candles, week 3

The light counting tradition from my childhood may continue to change with age, but I now find love, joy, peace, and hope in images of those memories by looking upon the houses here in Belfast with each week approaching Christmas: love for family, friends and strangers, hope for the strength of our souls, joy for the beauty of our earth, and peace amidst the wars of our world.  In the chaos of the season, it’s comforting to relive little moments like these that take us back to simplicity.

To look upon the lights of houses and buildings and not only think about Santa Clause and Christmas dinner at Grandma’s, but to be reminded of the pillars of light that


Belfast Christmas market outside of Belfast City Hall

the coming of Christ represent, is a new feeling  from my Christmas tradition that I’ll continue to cherish.

Lights sparkle with love, lights glow with joy, lights beacon with hope, lights illuminate with peace. Lights bring about life.

“And God said ‘Let there be light'”

x Hillary


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