Ralph’s Christmas Lights

by Christopher de Vinck

Many years ago, Ralph, one of my colleagues, was all excited about the move he just made into a new house and in a new neighborhood with his family. It was a Monday afternoon, at the end of the workday, just after the long Thanksgiving weekend.

“I got a million Christmas lights for the new house,” Ralph said. “My wife always likes me to decorate the house right after Thanksgiving because, she says, that’s when the Christmas season really begins.”

Ralph always did things in a big way. He’d bring not only doughnuts in the morning now and again as a staff treat, but he’d also bring in coffee, cups, a paper tablecloth, bagels, and cream cheese. And we always knew when Ralph entered a room: always a loud greeting, always a smile, always a joke or kind word about someone’s birthday. So on that Monday afternoon, I had a good idea what Ralph’s house was going to look like with his Christmas decorations.

The next morning Ralph arrived in the office a little later than usual. He was quiet. No doughnuts or coffee. He sat down beside me and just smiled.

“How’d you do with your decorations?” I asked.

Ralph looked at me. “Chris,” he said, “there are all different kinds of lights.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I like those old-fashioned Christmas lights—the ones when we were kids that were big and fat and glowed nicely on a string—those red, green, and blue ones?”

“Yeah, but something else,” Ralph said. “When I got home from work yesterday before dark, I dragged out the ladder and I outlined my entire house with my Christmas lights: around the windows, along the roofline, up the sides. By the time I finished, the house looked perfect, something almost out of Las Vegas, but a nice Las Vegas, you know, Christmas.”

Ralph looked at me and smiled. “When it was dark, I plugged in the lights and stood back onto the street to admire my work. In less than a minute one of my new neighbors stepped out of his house, smiled, shook my hand, introduced himself, and complimented my work. Suddenly another neighbor from the next house joined us, and he also shook my hand, welcomed me to the neighborhood, and said ‘Great floodlights.’”

Ralph told his story with a sense of quiet charm.

“Chris, within five minutes there were three more neighbors from three different houses, and they could not have been more welcoming, kinder, or friendlier. They were all impressed with my Christmas extravaganza, and then I asked, ‘So when do you guys set up your lights?’”

“Chris, there was a group chuckle, lots of smiles, and a pat on my back when one of the neighbors said, ‘Ralph, we’re all Jewish on this street, and mostly in this part of town. You are the first one ever on our street with Christmas lights, and we love it.’”

“Another neighbor,” Ralph said, “invited my wife and me to dinner next weekend. Another neighbor said that he would like to invite us to his home when his family lights their menorah on one of the eight days of Hanukkah.”

Ralph looked at me with quiet joy. “I warmly shook the hands of my new neighbors, thanked them for their kindness, and when I went back into the house, I told my wife about how welcome they made me feel and how much our Christmas lights pleased them and how they all have menorahs. She said right away, ‘Christmas lights, the menorah…same light, Ralph.’”

I think about Ralph’s story every Advent season. Same light with a capital L.

Christopher de Vinck

Christopher de Vinck

Christopher de Vinck is a husband, father, grandfather, novelist, essayist, and poet—earned a doctorate degree from Columbia University, was a public school teacher and administrator for 40 years, and writes every day in the former sunporch, now lined with books and converted into a small room that enjoys a southern exposure.

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