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Under my hat: Let there be light

We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s taken away.

It’s human nature. We don’t miss something until it’s gone.

I appreciate the holiday tradition of lights during winter because I lived through a time when it was taken away.

I remember when holiday lights became taboo.

In fact, Dark Christmas was exactly 50 years ago.

On Oct. 17, 1973, a group of Arab oil suppliers announced an embargo on oil exports to the United States and other countries.

It was in retaliation for America’s support of Israel in the Arab-Israeli War.

Oil prices shot from $3 a gallon to $12.

Government leaders asked gas stations to close on Sundays.

The energy crisis quickly became a national debacle and resulted in fuel shortages, gas rationing and long lines at the pumps.

We were asked to do everything we could to conserve energy. And that included our use of electricity.

We were instructed to become frugal with lights. The recommendation applied equally to everybody.

The White House Christmas tree remained unlit. Same for homes and businesses, inside and out.

I noticed how it changed people’s moods. There was an underlying sense of frustration.

Don’t get me wrong. There were no laws preventing you from putting up a few holiday lights.

But if you did, you were seen as un-American. Christmas lights suddenly were in bad taste. Neighbors didn’t look at you fondly if you put up lights. And so people avoided the practice.

The difference was remarkable. It showed me how important our traditions are, how little things add up to a lot.

Yes, the argument can be made that we don’t need lights to celebrate the meaning of the holiday.

But the act of illuminating our environment during the bleak, cold, dark days of winter plays a role in lifting our spirits.

The practice dates back to pagan Yule traditions, pre-Christmas.

Winter is dark. Nights are long. Lights signify hope. When they’re gone ... well, it’s just not the same.

So I learned to appreciate holiday lights. All of them. Simple displays, such as a candle in the window. Or more lavish, extreme panoramas that challenge the imagination. All are important.

Very shortly we’ll watch the eleventh year of a television show called The Great Christmas Light Fight.

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the past episodes.

The show takes decorating to a whole new level, with music, drama, special effects and excitement.

I admire the families and friends who come together to create those dazzling visual spectacles.

They use dancing LEDs synchronized to upbeat holiday tunes and themes.

I stare at it amazed, always in awe of the creativity and boundless inspiration.

And I think back to 50 years ago, when a simple string of colored lights was frowned upon.

We’ve come a long way.

I never take it for granted.

Let there be light.

To kick off the season of lights, I joined last week with songstress Cindie Gunderman, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and pianist Billy Duffy, known as Hazleton's Liberace, at a Christmas lighting event held at La Dolce Casa, Tamaqua.
Members of the community flock to see holiday lights at Depot Square Park, Tamaqua. The scene from Christmas 2022 will repeat itself again in a few days. But 50 years ago during the Global Energy Crisis, activities like this were canceled.
Every Thanksgiving, I visit friend Frank Fabrizio, Brockton, who reveals an extravagant display of color, music and motion in his lavish Christmas presentation on Green Street, just off Route 209. His spectacle has won national recognition. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS