Light displays were always a big pleasure in my childhood. Just riding around and seeing the variety in the neighborhood, the transformation of the familar created a sense of festivity. Wonder at the sight of such organized illumination kept me persuing inventive lighting into adulthood. My modern equivalent is finding a place on the web with the “20 awesomist light displays” to scroll through and see from my chair. A beautiful winter poem of a picnic grounds wrapped white lights up vertical tree trunks. Shining in the snow among the picnic tables they seemed to wait for an enchanted party to begin. The site included some imaginative individual house displays, but they were overwhelmed by extravagant commercial and corporate displays with a thoroughness in attention to detail that made them artful and dazzling.
So it was a special pleasure to read about our own 34th Street light display in the Wall Street Journal. There I learned that a Japanese company is filming a documentary about Xmas at W. 34th St. in Hampden, Baltimore. The originality and Baltimore flavor makes it far more fun than the manufactured commercial displays. My personal favorite is the hubcap tree. The display of Mr, Boh proposing to the Utz girl has been the setting for three couples engagement. Free from normal constraints by the general theme of the street, it’s not just illuminated, it's creative collaboration. What brings people together for a common purpose fills the air with life energy. It brought to mind the line from Eldridge Cleaver, “Competition is the law of the jungle. Cooperation is the law of civilization.” Though in so many areas of life it seems as though the law of the jungle has gotten the upper hand under cover as civilization. But our brains are wired to reward cooperation and connection. The thrill of competition is short and focuses attention on the comparison with others rather than putting skills together to accomplish something neither one could do on their own. It took the whole block to have the creative take on Christmas tradition that evolved in Hampden.
Light is an important metaphor in all religions. It offers relief from darkness in the darkest time of the year. It transforms the night with an order of its own, a design invisible in the light of day, the presence of thought we were unaware of when distracted by what’s easily perceived.