The tradition of using lights to decorate during the month of December can hold many meanings. Those of Christian faith often say that the use of lights symbolizes the Star of David in the biblical Christmas story. Others might point out that the winter solstice and Christmas both fall at the darkest time of the year, which led to using candles as decorations for centuries.

When Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, introduced the “Tannenbaum” or Christmas tree to Britain in the 1840s — and the tradition quickly spread across the Atlantic — it was common to light the in-home tree with candles. While beautiful, the candles had the unfortunate side effect of frequently enflaming their host.

In 1882, Edward Hibberd Johnson, a collaborator with Thomas Edison, had the bright idea to light up a Christmas tree safely. Johnson lit a tree with a strand of red, white and blue bulbs. 

His generator-powered decorations were expensive but, by 1894, President Grover Cleveland was decorating the White House tree with strings of lights. By the 1930s the lights were used to decorate trees, homes and stores throughout the country.

Today, it is common for municipalities and homeowners alike to brighten the winter nights with colorful strands of light. In Oak Park, Marion Street is lighted for the season, and the first annual Light Up the Night Oak Park on Dec. 19 introduced luminaria — white bags lit by tea lights — to sidewalks throughout the village. 

At homes throughout the area, homeowners turn to lights, blow-mold holiday figurines and, yes, even inflatables to add a bit of seasonal spirit to their yards. 

In this unprecedented year, perhaps we all can benefit from a bit of brightness.

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