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The Beatitudo of Christmas Lights

~ by Monika Minehart ~

A few weeks before Thanksgiving, my daughter ran up to me in the evening after looking out the front window and exclaimed with joy, “They have their Christmas tree up!” She noticed in the early darkness of the late afternoon that our neighbors directly across the street from us already had their Christmas tree beautifully decorated and adorned with lights for all to view from their living room window. In the weeks to come, neighbors near and far would put up their trees and outdoor Christmas lights as they each deemed appropriate according to their traditions and beliefs. 

Perhaps we are the house that hasn’t hung their lights in years. Or we might be the house that displays an array of inflatables and lights in abundance each and every year promptly the day after Thanksgiving. Still, there are many in between who hang a modest amount of lights at varying times. Just as there is no one path to conversion, there is no singular way to hang your Christmas lights. 

This leads us to the “why” of plugging in altogether. We all can agree that the colorful lights strung each year before Christmas create a sense of happiness or joy in the air. In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he outlines the four levels of happiness within each one of us, and I will use this as our guide to understanding what type of happiness might result from Christmas lights:

  1. Laetus or happiness from material goods. Christmas lights are material goods, but I would argue we don’t derive our happiness from the sheer light, plastic, or color. 

  2. Felix or ego gratification. We might feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when we are finished decorating our houses, but again, I posit that we don’t derive joy from our pride alone. 

  3. Beatitudo or the happiness from doing good for others thus, loving others. Here we meet our aim. Last night, before I went to sleep, I realized that I had not plugged in my balcony Christmas lights in a few days. As I went to turn them on, I appreciated, perhaps for the first time, that I rarely view my own lights; but rather, the ones on the houses across from our house are those that I appreciate the most. I finally comprehended that when I turn on my lights at night, I do it for the joy, or beatitudo, of others and not myself. I do this not only so that they might appreciate the beauty, but that they recognize that the beauty points to the most beautiful one– the incarnate God. 

  4. Sublime Beatitudo or happiness from a relationship or communication with the divine. God became man through the incarnation of Jesus and from the day of Christ’s conception began the ultimate display of light in our earthly world. Without the incarnation, there would be no Christmas season, and while the material world continually pushes us to focus on the first level of happiness alone, we are called to the highest level with every reflection of light we encounter. 

Sometimes, we forget to plug in our lights that are already hung. At other times, we have a few bulbs burnt out, but we plug them in anyway. This is the season where we are called to shine Christ’s light, whether dim or bright, for all to see and bring the joy we experience through our relationship with God to everyone around us. For as the Gospel of Matthew recounts, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” May we all remember the “why” of our decorating and be filled with the happiness that comes from bringing joy to others while being filled with the divine love offered to us through the incarnation. 

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