With COVID-19 doing its best to diminish a sense of community by necessitating people keeping their distance from others and avoid congregating, neighbors in Oak Park are looking to the past to feel together this season. On the evening of Dec. 19, homes across the village will place a luminary along the sidewalk in a collective showing of secular solidarity.

“The block that I live on, before we lived here, they had luminaries all the time,” said Erin Flanagan-Kopenac, who has lived in the 900 block of Hayes with her family for five and a half years now. “We kind of revived the tradition.”

Inspired by the success of her block’s luminary night last winter, Flanagan-Kopenac turned to Facebook to encourage more households to participate this December.

“I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get the whole street of Hayes from Augusta Street all the way to North Avenue to do this?” Flanagan-Kopenac recalled.

The positive response to the idea has floored and delighted Flanagan-Kopenac, as more than 123 blocks have committed to illuminating the streets of Oak Park on Dec. 19. 

“This has given me something to look forward to,” she said. “We all need that right now, especially in this really tough time.”

Luminaries are paper sandwich bags filled with sand that contain a lit tea light. People place them outside their homes after the sun sets to mark certain occasions. When viewed en masse, luminaries create a glowing amber chain that flows across the neighborhood.

“You can stand out on the street and just look in both directions,” said Flanagan-Kopenac. “And all you see are lights, and you know that there’s people behind them.”

Aside from being an actual light in the dark, the luminaries take on more metaphorical meanings as well.

“I think the light can mean something special for everybody,” said Flanagan-Kopenac, who hopes to honor lives lost to COVID-19 with her luminary this year. 

While Flanagan-Kopenac created the Facebook event and posted about it in multiple Oak Park groups, others have helped to coordinate logistics by creating a spreadsheet, passing out fliers and sharing information on where to purchase supplies. One person even took it upon himself to create a Google map illustrating the participating areas.

Walking around streets brightened with luminaries on the cold, dark nights of winter  provides a sense of peace and comfort, Flanagan-Kopenac believes.

“There’s something about being outside on a winter night; it’s kind of quiet and calm,” she said. “I’m hoping that this year will bring the same feeling to a lot of others.”

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