In my elementary school years, we lived in a parsonage out in the country, surrounded by corn and tarred gravel roads. Our nearest neighbors lived a half mile away, and other than the church there wasn't a whole lot of reason for the occasional car to stop or even slow down. We lived on the way to somewhere else.
Every December, we decorated like most other families. The tree was the main event, and we had a few other small items we'd hang or place in noticeable areas. Other than our artificial evergreen, my brother and I were probably most excited by the strands of colored lights that we'd used to outline the windows of the living room and our bedrooms. We had to take turns switching on the living room ones, but we were given complete autonomy with those in our rooms. We'd wait until it was just dark enough, and then either leave them on all night or unplug them again just before bed.
From the road, I can't imagine that these were much to look at. These smaller bulbs were perhaps barely visible from more than a hundred yards away. In addition, they constituted the extent of our outside decorations: we didn't put lights in trees or bushes or on the porch; we had no garland wrapped around banisters or railings. And nobody had yet produced the gaudy inflatable Peanuts characters that are now so popular. No, all we had were modest window lights, unimpressive to most, especially relative to the way some canvas their yard with all manner of holiday cheer.
But those lights excited us. And we didn't much care about the rest.
While driving after dark, I notice houses that are decorated like my childhood home. All they can muster are a few egg-sized bulbs around a window or a plastic Santa by the door. Maybe there's little more than a wreath at the entrance or a star on the chimney. They'll be passed unnoticed in favor of displays bigger and brighter; that people consider much more festive and jolly. People pass by what they see as half-hearted attempts on the way to somewhere else.
We'll never know the reasons why such houses do what seems like the bare minimum. Maybe that single strand is all they could afford, or they're too busy or fraught with anxiety to trouble themselves with much more. Maybe the season brings too many reminders of grief and loss, and even that plastic Santa is more than they wanted to do. Maybe that star on the chimney doesn't seem like much, but it's everything to the person who hung it, because they fought themselves to put it there at all.
This time of year, the smallest light is the best some can show.