Today I got these little remarks about Christmas in Queens, New York, written by a good friend of mine, originally from Canada, but now a local in New York for many years.
My Greek neighbors live in a sturdy red house directly across the street from me. The neighborhood has no doubt changed a whole lot since they first moved here. At one time the street probably had lots of other Greek families, but now no more. The street is a spicy blend of humanity. Next door to them now is a family from Bangladesh, across a family from Guyana, and it just goes on and on. The little world that is 160 Street in Queens, NY, has changed a lot even in the time that I have been there. Because they are such rock solid people I really no longer take much notice of them. In the winter they scoot inside quickly like everybody else on chilly days. Today I stopped to take note and a picture of their Christmas display. For all I know they have plugged in the same decorations since 1973, or maybe they put them up for the first time this year. Under oath I couldn’t really say. I never really noticed what they did over there to tell the truth. I kind of like its simplicity actually. It is just a small pool of sparkle on this the longest darkest night of the year. Gratefully it is really mild and so the misery of darkness doesn’t seem so bad.
Because it was so mild I thought I would go out and explore other displays of Christmas lights. I meandered over intoJamaica Estates where I heard about thisplace that was by rumored to be off the charts. I really wasn’t quite sure where it was so I did some twisting and turning down other wise dark streets and then I caught a glimpse of the tree, saturated with brilliant lights from afar. Blazing against a pitch black moonless sky and just seeming to be endlessly pouring unearthly brightness into the void. It was late afternoon and yet night was fully upon us. It was shocking just how much stuff, lights, Santas, and every conceivable holiday image was on display around this gigantic corner house. Some stationary colorful object, but lots dancing and moving displays, like some transplanted Disney theme park, with just the right complimentary music and ho ho hos emanating from carefully planted speakers. Cars were pushing onto the street already and kids, old ladies, and folks of every description were spilling out onto the narrow street with cameras already fired up and slack jawed wonder plastered across their faces. They couldn’t believe it and neither could I. For a few minutes I took some pictures and just stared like everyone else. I assume that in a few hours more the street would be plugged solid with others also wanting to get their Christmas spirit charged up, or perhaps get ideas of how they could improve their own displays. It is hard to imagine anybody topping this one for pure extravagance and yet it somehow all worked together. The one touch that inspired me most was the simplest part of the display. A sign high above the house that said, “Peace on Earth,” can’t argue with that. It was all clearly put together by someone who had an ample imagination, budget, and tremendous storage space.
It is a couple of miles away and as I ran back I thought about the lights and the solstice. I am pretty sure that early pagan people probably figured out pretty early on that when the long dark winter set in they really wanted to encourage the sun to come back and warm the place back up again. Maybe if you tried to throw light into the darkness you could invite the sun to return, like priming a reluctant pump. No matter what we do however nature and the calender cycle is simply going to do its own thing and come around in its own good time. When I got home I took another look at the Greek house and stopped to enjoy the lights again. Just a minute, that was enough. I was glad that the Greeks were my neighbors and not the folks with the xmas extravaganza for a house. If you lived even a block from that place life must be a nightmare until they turn the whole thing off in January. There can’t be any peace for the rest of the neighbors for endless traffic jammed weeks. If you lived across the street the light is so bright it could almost beam laser like through the walls or curtains.
I might go by again some time but I don’t think so. The pictures are more than enough. If I am short of any Christmas cheer I will step out of my very dark house and gaze across the street, into the little pool of brightness, that the Greeks are offering.
– Utpal Marshall