A week before Christmas Eve and we finally have two decorations up in our house. Just the two. Nothing leftover from previous years. The only reason is that we walked into the right Trader Joe’s this afternoon and their holiday decoration section was just fine enough. So we have a potted evergreen branch and an ornament with a succulent planted in it. It matches the same Trader Joe decorations we picked up for Halloween several weeks back.

Out the front window, the skies are depressively grey. The solstice is just a few days away and a little piece of me wishes I had just bought the damn outdoor lights so that the branches outside the window have a little bit of something going on with them.

I grew up suburban. Christmas lights were a given. In Texas, where every home was a single-story, my dad would line the gutters with them every year. When we moved to Colorado the front of our house became two stories, the 25-foot drop wasn’t worth the lights anymore. Instead, the family would pile into the mini-van, and we’d tour other neighborhoods where the holiday lights were a coordinated effort by the HOA, or they were put up by people who could hire designers and landscapers to deal with it.

I didn’t realize how vital Christmas Lights were until I was 23 and in that weird spot between graduating from college and settling in with that “grown-up” job someone in admissions had promised I’d get. I was freelancing for some clients and working part-time in retail at the mall. The mall was a 20-minute walk away through the country-club neighborhoods full of historic homes on plots of land with values I’ll likely never appreciate (especially back then). The holiday display at the mall went up around the daylight savings change and my walk home after my shifts were darker and bleaker. Snows settled, shit got dark and cold, the sidewalks crunched with ice that had melted and refrozen a dozen times over. By the time I got back to my one-bedroom apartment in the building where everyone smoked inside all the time, the depression of a dinner alone in front of basic cable was nothing short of crushing.

That is until every home in the country club neighborhood lit up with a million bulbs of every kind. Homes that were grand during the daytime had all of their unique features highlighted in strings of lights at night time. In windows, grand Christmas trees and wreaths, sconces with electric candles. Overnight, that walk home became significantly more bearable. At least, for a few weeks – then an ill-timed bout of flu kept me off work schedules and, ultimately, out of employment.

I’m not a huge proponent of Christmas – as the holiday celebrating the birth of saviors or of the rampant consumerism or all the other reasons people chose to not embrace the holiday. However, when it is the dead of winter and the ground has been freezing and there hasn’t been a green leaf anywhere for months – something like holiday lights can matter.

After all – what staves off the darkness better than the light?