The 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 in a new neighborhood. 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 to decorate the house right after Thanksgiving because, she says, that’s when the Christmas season really begins, and I have three sets of floodlights.

Ralph always did things in a big way. He’d bring not only doughnuts in the morning now and then as a staff treat, but he’d also bring in coffee, a paper table cloth, bagels, and cream cheese.

And you always knew when Ralph entered a room. There was always a loud greeting, always a smile, always a joke or kind word about someone’s birthday. So 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.”

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

“Yea, but something else,” Ralph said. “When I got home from work yesterday before dark, I dragged out the ladder and I outlined the entire house with 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 on 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 history 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, friendlier, and 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 the back when one of the neighbors said, ‘Ralph, we’re all Jewish on the 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 hands with 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, and she said right away, ‘Christmas lights, the menorah … same light, Ralph.’”

I think about Ralph’s story every Advent season. Same light—for us, the coming of Christ Himself, for them and for us both, the enduring hope of God’s faithful love.

Christopher de Vinck is the award-winning author of The Power of the Powerless and Simple Wonders and a regular feature writer for Reader’s Digest, Guideposts, and The New York Times. His family has been close to Madonna House since he was a little boy.