insights on art, culture, lifestyle, spirituality, travel, music, society and much much more from a jet-setter currently on "furlough"…

Holiday Lights (Less is More)

My favorite part about the holidays is definitely the winter lights showcase. In fact, I am someone that keeps holiday lights and Christmas decorations up until well into February; simply because they make me happy and it’s hard to survive winter without some LIGHT. Winter (or l’inverno, in Italiano) can be a hard month for many people, so what better way to kick off those assiduous {winter} blues than to hang some festive lights around town to induce festive joy and tranquility?

Those of us who live in the United States know that we Americans tend to go overboard with the lights (and everything else!) during the holiday season: parks decked out in colorful holiday lights, parades with inflatable Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman figures, giant gingerbread houses and ornate wreaths decorating famous mansions (just to name a few). These lights can be a spectacle for locals and tourists alike, but can also create an uncomfortable sense of visual overload. Many times, displays can be kitschy — check out this house I have driven by many times in Burtonsville, MD — and down right expensive. Is there a way out?

I spent 7 of the 9 days of my trip in Rome, the capital of Catholicism and home of the best display of holiday lights (according to most of my Italian friends). During those days, I saw my fair share of Italian holiday lights and displays while walking around the center of town (Piazza di Popolo, Trastevere, Piazza di Spagna) In contrast to the gaudy, flashing red, gold and green lights that we are familiar with, the Romans chose a simpler way of decorating their streets: still equally festive, soothing and oh so beautiful.

Instead of a kaleidoscope of tacky Christmas colors, the Romans fared well with their simple blue, yellow and white lights. These lights were draped on the branches of trees, dangling from the top of churches and also strung in between the buildings (cobble stone beneath). Popular designs included snowflakes, vertical strings, the occasional pine tree (or maybe it’s a cypress tree in this case) and, of course, stars. The Italians LOVE their stars (a reoccurring symbol that appears everywhere), as well as song titles such as Quante stelle in cielo con la luna. Some lights dazzled while others remained still…

All in all, the lights brightened up each pedestrian street with never-ending holiday spirit. The holidays can get so stressful sometimes that surely seeing these simple, bright and beautiful lights will bring people peace instead of insanity. Indeed, less is more and the way it should be.

For more information about Christmas traditions in Italy, check out Rick Steves’ Christmas in Europe: Italy series here.


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