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Past and Present, Holiday Lights Inspire Christmas Magic

The Christmas lights in Plymouth prompt a new family tradition.

When I was little, the best part of Christmas Eve was driving back from Aunt Betty's house—sitting in the back seat of the car in my fancy red Christmas coat, watching the moon follow us and seeing all the Christmas lights lining the rooftops on the way home.

At our house, we always had those oversized multi-colored lights around the doorway (if you want to buy them now, they're called Old-Fashioned C9 lights) and blue electric candles on the window ledges. But, everything changes. The electric candles have fallen out of style and so have windows with ledges. As for holiday lights in general, though, the tradition seems to have grown. 

Lifelong Plymouth resident, Sanford Burr, who's spent the last 84 years here, says light displays are much more elaborate than they used to be. "When I was a boy, if you had two separate candles in the living room and dining room and a wreath, that would be a real good display."

Indoor Christmas lights have also changed a lot. Burr says he remembers visiting his great-grandfather on Christmas Day, at his house on Starkweather Street. It was a big family affair and he and his cousins used to gather in the living room to hear a holiday story. The butler would show up, pull open the doors to another room and reveal a Christmas tree, lit with real candles. It was a magical moment, Burr says, but it didn't last long because the candles had to be blown out. The children never saw that part; the candles were snuffed behind closed doors. There were presents under the tree but the magic was all about seeing the tree lit up.

One of my favorite Christmas memories is centered around a lit-up tree, too, but for me, it was a cherry tree in the front yard. My mother had always wanted twinkling white lights in that tree but, the trouble was, it wasn't near the house. The only way to light it up was to run an extension cord across our driveway. Or, so I thought. I don't remember exactly how my dad did it but, when I was about eight years old, my father buried a cord under the driveway and surprised my mom with her sweet little sparkly white tree, just in time for Christmas. It was the best surprise I've ever known and I still remember the moment we flipped the switch.

This year, when we head home after a family party on Christmas Eve, we'll take the long way and watch the moon follow us as we drive past all of the Christmas lights and trees in Plymouth. I'm sure there are stories and memories behind a lot of them, too. We'll drive up Penniman and back down Ann Arbor Trail to see the best and brightest. But, we'll also ride down Pacific St. and N. Harvey, which get my vote for the most creatively-lit streets in town. It's going to be our new tradition. I want my children to know that feeling of peaceful expectation that comes only on Christmas Eve, when the air is cold, the lights are bright and joy is everywhere you look. It's the feeling that some things never change. 

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