When I was growing up in Hempstead in the early 1980s, as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone, my sister Cathy and I used to ask Mom with excitement and hope, "When are we putting up the Christmas tree?"
Every year she would give the same answer: "Two weeks before Christmas, like we always do."
We would moan and groan, beg and plead to put up the beloved Christmas tree earlier. Even Dad would sometimes join our cause and look at Mom with hope in his eyes. But she would never budge.
"Two weeks before," she always said firmly.
Then she would remind us that when she was growing up in Hempstead in the 1940s, her parents didn't decorate their tree until Christmas Eve! Cathy and I couldn't believe our ears. Suddenly, two weeks before Christmas didn't seem so bad.
That was then. Today on Long Island we see Christmas trees and houses all lit up the day after Thanksgiving. Festive!
Some set their lights twinkling before Thanksgiving. Nice!
This year I even saw some lights up on homes before Halloween! Interesting.
I believe people have a right to decide for themselves when the time is right to celebrate. My goal is usually the first weekend of December. We put strings of lights on our shrubs and hang icicle lights from the eaves of our home.
Advent, the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, is a time marked with quiet, patient waiting. Waiting and preparing for what Christians call "the Light of the World" to come and save us. It is a wonderful time of year, filled with excitement, hope, love and renewal. Actually, it is the best time of the year, as the Christmas songs tell us.
Around the same time, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple. The lighting of the menorah candles strengthens faith in miracles.
I think that the season's lights go up earlier and earlier because perhaps the rest of the year the world is just getting darker and darker. Think about it. There are school shootings, traumatic storms that rip through our lives without warning, deaths to Ebola, riots and protests in the streets, cities burning, innocent bloodshed, and the wrath of the Islamic State. And all of this is topped with whatever personal trials and struggles each household is going through.
Perhaps the darkness goes on long enough. Perhaps some people have just had it with the darkness of life. Let's face it. We could all use a little extra light!
No matter what holiday you celebrate, this time of year is a time for comforting traditions, time with family and friends. It is about peace, hope and love.
When you see lights go up, don't focus so much on the calendar. Instead, let the light ignite your heart. Take a moment to stop, smile and let the renewal of the season sink in.
Reader Clare O'Leary lives in South Hempstead.