POSTED ON DECEMBER 10, 2008:
All the Pretty Lights
Holiday newbie takes a tour to find the best light displays in town
Didn't Get the Memo. When I first arrived, I didn't realize it was customary to dim your headlights to get a better view of all the pretty lights. "What's up with this dude?" I flashed my lights. "Who drives around like that?"
This time of year is celebrated in a myriad of ways around the world, nation and Green Country. The holidays range from Kwanzaa, the holiday honoring the heritage of Africa, to Christmas and Hanukkah to Dhu al-Hijja, the final month in the Islamic calendar and the time of year of the Hajj pilgrimage. For each of these sacred celebrations, light plays a vital and symbolic role.
Lighting candles to symbolize the role of Jesus in Christianity, African roots with the kinara, or candle holder, to begin Kwanzaa or the lighting of the menorah during the eight days of Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights, are all significant rituals. Even in secular homes, holiday traditions seem safe in America.
When I think of seasonal lights, I think of twinkling, miniature, multi-colored holiday lights. Or, Christmas lights. On a tree, around the house, in a shop window or on the exterior of my neighbors' homes-- all are common locations.
My tree has been up for more than a week. The lights beam at me as I write.
Overall, I feel neutral about lights, though I will say that I've spent the holiday season without a tree or lights and it didn't feel like the holidays. It didn't help that I was thousands of miles away from my family in Central America and sweating on an 85-degree day. Tropical, yes. Festive, no.
Billed and Blinded
A delicate balance exists between traditional ornamentation and lavishness. In this country, we do a fair job of towing that line, but we also exceed it. I understand abundance. It's a part of our culture, economy and indoctrination.
I'd also like to say that when you need a crew to erect such lights and that crew needs half-a-year to do so, you're nearing the prodigal side of the lighting equation.
Rhema Bible Church, 1025 W. Kenosha St., in Broken Arrow has moved from 60,000 lights in 1982 to more than 1.5 million this year with 500,000-plus new LED lights. Ever wonder how many LED lights it takes to see a monthly difference in your power bill? The folks at Rhema have a good idea.
I visited the Rhema campus on the chilly evening of Sunday, November 30. I tried to stand close to the lights, which remain up until January 1, to warm up, but it proved futile.
I was joined by hundreds of visitors both on foot and in car. We are all there for one purpose: to witness lights. A boatload of lights. More lights than you could display if you quit your job tomorrow and worked full-time for a year on the project.
It's quite a sight. This year Rhema created a light show synchronized to Christmas music. Not only are there a million and a half lights, but some of them dance to music. Had I danced along or bought some of the hot chocolate at the snack booth, I'd have stayed warmer longer.
Outside of the Christmas music and the surrounding messages on the buildings, there was little that distinguished the lighting at Rhema from, say, a Las Vegas light show. Several of the exhibitions looked oddly similar to Vegas Vic, the famous 40-foot tall waving cowboy over the Pioneer in downtown Las Vegas. But, I did not feel transformed, even though I did my best to channel some of that desert heat to Tulsa.
Had the lake at Rhema, outfitted with ducks, been a theatric well-lit water show, I'd have been convinced it was a Vegas-themed show. But Rhema only had quacking ducks. Thank goodness.
When I first arrived, I didn't realize it was customary to dim your headlights to get a better view of all the pretty lights. "What's up with this dude?" I flashed my lights. "Who drives around like that?"
For the evening, Cristi, my girlfriend, and I got our exercise, dodged some gawking drivers, and got back in the car. Shortly thereafter I'd be gawking, taking in the ostentatiously lit cowboys, trees and sleighs on the exterior of the property.
After starting with the biggest light show in Tulsa, I knew that any subsequent exhibition would pale in comparison. Utica Square's 700,000 lights, while not outnumbering Rhema's, is still a lot of lights. But the idea of lights at a shopping center seems more appropriate to me.
As I outlined above, I understand the many uses of lights during the holidays. That said, hundreds of thousands of lights seem more at home at a commercial center than a Bible school campus.
Utica Square already held its Lights On! ceremony, the initial "lighting" of the display on Thanksgiving day, an annual celebration for more than 40 years. It is a tradition that undoubtedly increases the amount of traffic in the area and therefore, shopping. Prior to my visit, several people told me, "You should go to the lights at Utica Square." I followed your suggestion.
I did burn the hell out of my mouth on my tea the night of Lights On!, but it had nothing to do with the lights and everything to do with my own idiocy, although I would like to blame it on something other than my own lack of vigilance. Wait, I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. Damn lights!
On the way home, we stopped by Swan Lake, just north of Utica Square on Utica. We wanted to see what kind of attention neighborhoods were drawing to themselves this time of year. As I learned last year, Swan Lake, the historic homes and their owners, always erect lights. I've found it to be one of the better neighborhood displays in town, but like I said earlier, I'm neutral on lights, so it is possible there are neighborhoods that surpass the glimmer of Swan Lake.
As I drove around the lake I thought to myself: I guess somebody had to do it. A church, a shopping center, and an upper-class neighborhood. Those all make sense.
All I need to know that the holidays are rapidly approaching are my tree, the calls from my parents and siblings, and a desire for long underwear.
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