A few nights ago, while walking my dog, I noticed that some of my neighbors had put up and turned on their holiday decorations. The next night, while walking the dog, I brought along my camera and took some pictures. Those pictures are in the slide show that accompanies this article.
Many people refer to these light displays as Christmas lights, but over a sample of six city blocks on either side of my house, I only noticed one house that had the birth of Jesus as part of the display. That house had a plastic crèche with a plastic Joseph and plastic Mary. Both Joseph and Mary, in keeping with the season, light up.
Some of the houses have either real trees strung with lights or lights on a frame to simulate a lighted tree. I suspect that many people believe the lighted tree is a symbol of Jesus, but it actually comes from the pagans. Hanging lights on a house is just a variation of hanging lights on a tree.
Christian apologists have convoluted arguments to justify the lights, the tree, the wreath, and all of the other stuff that gets dragged out during November and December.
As an atheist, one might suspect that I would shun and decry these displays. In fact, I think some of the displays are pretty. The most recent ‘icicle’ variation has clear plastic ‘icicles’ with several white LED lights inside. The LED lights blink in order down the plastic form making it look like water dripping from melting icicles.
There have been occasions when I have done some holiday decorating, before I came out of the A-closet. While my son was in college, I decided to create a tree shape using a pole, twine, and a string of blue lights. I attached strands of twine to the top of the pole and to stakes in a circle around the base of the pole. I ran the lights along the twine up and down to make a cone shaped simulated tree.
When my son came home for the holidays, he arrived at night, and as he came into the house, confronted me, saying, “Who are you and what have you done with my father?”
A few years later, we had a late May open house for his graduation. I had left up a string of lights on the garage. I had noticed some areas on the garage roof where the shingles were turning up and had placed a stepladder next to the garage so I could get a closer look. One of my wife’s friends called my attention to the lights and the ladder by asking if I “was putting them up or taking them down?”
One concern that I do have about holiday lights is the cost. Even though 30-foot string of 100 lights might only cost $10 to purchase, the lights cost money to operate. Standard lights use about five watts each, so 100 lights would use 500 watts. If the lights were left on for six hours per day, over the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas, they would be on for about 180 hours. Power is measured in watt-sec or kilowatt-hours. 500 watts times 180 hours is 90,000 watt-hours or 90 kilowatt-hours. The cost of a kilowatt-hour varies around the country but even using the minimum of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, 90 kilowatt-hours costs $10.80.
If the lights are used for five or more years, the cost of the lights is barely significant.
$11 per year does not seem like much money. Consider that there are about 100 million households in the US. Cut that number in half to allow for apartment dwellers and cut it in half again to allow for non-displayers like myself and we have an estimate of 25 million homes with lights and a cost, per year, of over a quarter billion dollars.
[Note: LED lights cost a little more to purchase but a string of 100 lights would require about a tenth of the power of standard lights. Since many houses have multiple strings of LED lights, the end cost might be about the same.]
Let’s play a game. What could we do with $275 million? A high school, on average, costs between $15 million and $18 million to build, while an elementary school costs about $6 million. A college dormitory for 400 students costs about $12 million while a 100-child day care center costs about $1.5 million. We could build 15 to 18 high schools, or 46 elementary schools, or 23 college dormitories, or 183 day care centers EVERY YEAR for what we are spending on pretty lights.
The bottom line is why do people hang the lights? In what way does it honor Jesus? Jesus said people should sell what they own and give the proceeds to the poor. I think, if Jesus came to my neighborhood and realized the waste, he would repeat the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”
If you haven’t yet bought and hung your lights, consider giving the money to food shelves or places where they feed the homeless. “Jesus smiled,’ is not in the Bible but maybe it should be.
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