I knew there was something different about the place.
See, Northampton prides itself on being this sort of picture postcard that hits all the right buttons when you observe it.
It's progressive; there are excellent schools and, subsequently, intelligent thought thrives in the air, the telephone lines, and on the streets. It's relatively clean, despite the town doing away with the Honor Court (who used to sweep the streets as part of community service). It's full of colorful people (not necessarily people "of color"--it's 90% white--although I suppose white is a color). And it's steeped in history, having celebrated its 350th anniversary back in 2004.
And because of all of these factors and more, it likes to peacock. That is, it likes to show off and fluff its feathers when it can, which is often, and, more often than not, it does it with class, taste, and quality. It is rare that bureaucracy and elegance go hand in hand, but Northampton seems to pull it off.
But two years ago I noticed something right around this time of year. Or, I should say, I noticed the lack of something: lights on the trees.
I couldn't believe it. Every year since I had lived here the town had become a blaze of white lights up and down Main St. and even down a few of the less travelled ones. So, being the ever curious fellow that I am, I inquired as to why they were not honoring this delightful tradition.
I was told it was to save the trees from harm.
Yes. What I was told was that for years the town had been just leaving the lights up all year round, wrapped around the trunks and branches of all the trees on Main St. and because of that, the trees had suffered some damage from the wires cutting into their bark.
And, like Michael Moore wearing jeans with a tux jacket to the Oscars a few years back, it made sense and it was ridiculous.
I was told that instead of having the lights on the trees during the holidays, they were going to put up lights around the flag-like advertisements that hang from each and every street light.
Great. Now they were even more like billboards.
And I couldn't get over how ludicrous it was to just disregard the wonderful and awe inspiring tradition that is lighting up all the trees on Main St. due to the fact that they would have to put them up and take them down every year. I wasn't paying property taxes back then, but if I was, I would have most certainly given some random clerk down at City Hall a piece of my mind.
So I did my usual thing: I bitched about it the first year to anybody and everybody who would listen, and then I kind of forgot about it the year after that ...
... until they came back.
It made me so very happy to know that they figured out a way to make it work this year; that they decided that the past two years didn't look so hot, and they would take the time and pay the guys the overtime to put the lights up, and (I'm assuming) take them down when the season's over.
Because the trees have every right to get a bit gussied up for the Holidays. They have all year to leave the lights in the closet. These are the days when it's time to shine. It's a time when we all make sure we can still fit into that sport coat or that dress that's been hanging up in the closet. We make an effort to wear the shoes that aren't our favorites, but look like they should be. We put up with our mothers pinning a little santa pin on us and we know that, as much as we may moan over it, that there's nothing like the feeling of your parent pulling you close with a forceful but loving hand to put a decoration on you. It's stronger of a force than any law officer can exert. There's that sense that they really do hold a special power over you. They made you, they raised you, and regardless of how much you want to deny it, they know what's right. You may be too cool for school and casually take the santa hat off halfway through the opening of the presents, but you wear the damn thing until then; you have no choice. And you know what? Sometimes, giving in is exactly what you need to show that you are in control. Sometimes we show more in our willingness to comply then we do by refusing to play along.
And so, it pleases to no end that my town is wearing its Holiday best this year. I'm glad that Northampton realized that the bit of extra work that may hurt come the end of the fiscal year from paying the men in the cherry pickers will be worth it in the proper spirit that the sparkling trees exude. This is the time of the year that our belts cut in a little more than they used to, whether it's from a pair of dress slacks that would rather be doing anything except testing it's fibrous constitution, or a checkbook being stretched to its limits for any number of reasons that come with the Holiday season.
And just like the trees, we need to loosen these binds when the season is over and get on with the lives we lead the rest of the year.
But for now, let us shine on while our filaments still glow.
They won't last forever, but they won't all go out at once, either.
And that's nice to know.
Thanks for reading.