The wonder of a world illuminated for the holidays

December 20, 2021 GMT

In the darkest days of the year, in a very dark time, there is a longing for illumination.

And so, all around the world, the holiday lights go on — some of them humble, some of them spectacular, all of them a welcome respite from the dark.

They make the streets an interactive experience. There are tunnels of light — to walk through, as pedestrians do in Tokyo, at the zoo in Johannesburg, South Africa, and at the Holiday Road light show in Calabasas, California; to drive through, at a mall in Panay, the Philippines, where visitors remained in their cars to curb the spread of COVID-19.

There are real trees and manmade trees and ginormous trees, like the light sculpture in Vigo, Spain, said to be the biggest tree in the world, so big that adults and children stroll inside. Vigo goes all out for Christmas, stringing 11 million LED lights on more than 350 streets.

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Some displays are municipal, like the silvery strings of light that adorn the lampposts of Moscow. Some are commercial, like the lights that wrap an electronics store in Syntagma Square in Athens, turning it into a massive giftbox. And some are private, like the over-the-top trimmings of homes in the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Dyker Heights.

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All are wonderful, in the most literal meaning of the word.

Is it possible that as the world struggles through its second Christmas season beset by disease, we need the lights to be brighter than ever? And so we spread them above like a celestial canopy in places from Barcelona, Spain, to the Old City of Damascus, Syria?

Is this how we rage against the dying of the light?