When the lights come up

img_1084When Paul and I went down to Richmond for a visit with my parents last weekend, we spent some time on Saturday evening driving around town looking at lights. I haven’t done a Christmas light tour in Richmond probably since I was in college, and it brought back so many memories, all of them tinged with that glow that only childhood Christmases have.

We went downtown to the James Center to see the reindeer woodland, definitely a highlight of my little girl days. Basically two big plazas in front of tall office buildings are jam-packed with lighted reindeer posed in various positions. As if this herd of flying light-deer have touched down briefly to munch grass in the middle of a random city en route to the North Pole. One of them even has a red nose, and the children squeal with delight when they find him.

I do love Christmas in a real city. Charlottesville, while lovely, is not big enough to really pull it off. Richmond lights up its whole skyline, with the skyscrapers’ edges crisply outlined with white lights. One December evening I would like to walk out to Belle Isle, or at least to the middle of the footbridge, and see the city glittering from a distance. We kept on driving around town, and suburb, and saw lights both tacky and tasteful, the style of the lights generally being in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. There was colorful and kitschy exuberance in the Fan, and serene and sedate candlelit windows in the West End, just as you would expect. And everywhere we went, I would look for the Christmas trees twinkling through windows.

Christmas (and Hanukkah) (and the solstice) are all about light appearing, and even miraculously growing, in times of darkness. The lights everywhere this time of year are, to me, a reminder that the light is all around. Everywhere, strangers are conjuring it. Even at night. Sometimes especially at night. The lights wouldn’t have the same warmth or beauty if they weren’t shining in the midst of darkness.

So I have been moved to stitch a piece full of bright colors standing out on a dark background. The subject matter, too, is in keeping with the theme–a performer on stage, lights shining on her as she twirls, dazzling the audience sitting in the darkened theater. Let’s just say I’ve been listening to a lot of The Nutcracker lately, and this piece is my own version of the dance of the sugar plum fairy. As she slowly comes into view, stitch by stitch, it feels like the lights are coming up.


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