I’ve been thinking this year about some of the traditional activities connected with Christmas—presents, trees, music. This week I enjoyed a tradition that dates back to my childhood: I took a tour of a neighborhood where the majority of the homes set up incredible displays of Christmas lights.
Not just any lights. These home owners in this section of the city of Brea go all out at Christmas and decorate in every imaginable way. They hang and drape and wrap and wind and string lights from the peak of roofs to the edge of lawns and everywhere in between.
The result is magical. I mean, it’s astounding the creations these people come up with. They portray every aspect of Christmas you can think of. There are yards outlined with candy canes, others filled with presents. There are arches with holly wreaths and poinsettias and bells and jack-in-the-box-like reveals of children or elves or Santa.
There are presents and flashing lights set to music, icicles, and candy canes. Snoopy and his his crew get a bit of attention and of course so do snowmen and carolers and reindeer. But clearly, Santa is the star of the show.
A few years ago the new thing seemed to be to upgrade his transportation, and that’s still in place. While there were some sleighs, there were also trains, helicopters, airplanes, and even a hot-air balloon or two ready to whisk Santa away to deliver toys to all the good little girls and boys.
I truly did enjoy the light show, and this year there was a noticeable increase in the number of manger scenes, some in especially prominent places.
One home displayed several Bible verses in among the light display. One verse was Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” I think one might have been a Messianic prophecy from the Old Testament, and the third was John 3:16—“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
A couple houses had big Noel signs and another had a lighted cross in an upstairs window. They also put a cross inside the star that they put on the top of a gigantic evergreen tree beside their home.
Most surprising were the two dozen or so that said “Wise men still seek Him.” I suspect someone in the community had them printed up and made available because they were all the same, all placed prominently in the front.
When I was growing up, Nativity Scenes were not unusual. We used to visit the State Capitol Building in Denver, and there was always a manger scene among the many lavish decorations. Often in the windows of homes we could see a wooden stable with figurines of Joseph, Mary, a collection of shepherds, and magi huddled around a manger where the fairly old looking pretend baby Jesus lay.
One of the families in the school where I taught had twelve children. And they happened to be a very musical group (VERY musical—tremendous talent). At some point they decided to go beyond a nativity display to a nativity re-enactment. I mean, they had, for quite a few years, a new born baby, whether child or grandchild, to play the part of baby Jesus. They did this on the front lawn of their very large home in Fullerton, and people would come from all over to watch the performance, much the way I did this week to view the Christmas lights.
The point is, the events the Bible tells about the birth of Jesus Christ, once were prominent in our Christmas decorations. Our technology has improved and our displays have become more elaborate, but now including something about Jesus is noteworthy.
On the other hand, when a manger scene at Christmas was an expected part of the decoration, it didn’t mean anything significant. They were common, and lots of people displayed them, whether they worship the Christ or not.
Now, I doubt people here in SoCal put up manger scenes unless they are purposefully, intentionally making a statement about what they believe about Christmas.
May the lights shining from the homes with Nativity Scenes shine ever brighter this year.
This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.