I wrote this on the first day of this new year as I enjoyed one last night relaxing in the glow of our tree. Judging by the number of Christmas trees laying along the curb, the holidays are over. It may seem I’m a little late in sharing the third tradition story, especially since it involves Christmas lights. The story was missing something, but I didn’t know what until today.
I love Christmas lights. A few years back my mom asked me if I was interested in driving up to Duluth to check out some lights. It seemed a bit silly to drive two hours to look at lights, but Lake Superior’s shore has a magnetic pull that I find hard to resist. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. But Marcia Hale’s light display was more than a light display.
Marcia had grown up with parents who made a big deal out of decorating for Christmas and that was a tradition she continued. But it wasn’t until 1998 that she and her husband Alan opted to take it to a new level. They decided to create a spectacular display that would be worthy of consideration in Duluth’s citywide lighting contest. Sadly, Alan passed away suddenly in August of 1999. Marcia credits creating the light display as a tribute to Alan with keeping her going that year.
That year and each year since she adds to the display. The incandescent glow of clear and green lights is beautiful. The setting on the shore of a Great Lake adds an unbeatable mystique. The lights of downtown Duluth sparkle on the distant hillside as a backdrop. Beautiful. It is all beautiful, but that isn’t what makes it special. Marcia herself is illuminates this place.
Anyone can string lights and run extension cords. In an age where most people struggle to find time to share quality time with those closest to them, Marcia doesn’t just put lights out, she invites you to linger. She welcomes you to wander her little slice of heaven. Flipping the switch to the 150,000 or so lights is just the beginning. Each night she builds a bonfire and stocks it with smore ingredients. In her guest house she warms cider and puts out cookies. She makes ice lanterns and she arranges to have Santa and Mrs. Claus on hand Friday and Saturday nights. If the sky is clear and the wind cooperative she sends up wish lanterns over the lake.
It is undoubtedly her generous spirit that sets this display apart. There is a sense of peace about the place that calms the hustle and bustle and makes you want to stay there for as long as possible, if only that wind off the lake weren’t so cold. And this is where what I learned today clicked. The Celtic have a saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. This notion of thin places was new to me and I instantly loved it. I could think of thin places, places that allowed me to peer into heaven, places where beauty defied description, places that provided peace. For me, Marcia’s is a thin place.
Marcia who is now over seven decades old carries out this tradition with the help of family and friends. Creating this wonderland and welcoming everyone to enjoy it has become Marcia’s tradition. She has had visitors from all over the world and for many locals visiting is a yearly tradition.
My heart sank when I heard this would be her last year doing the display. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a trip to Marcia’s. There was an outpouring of pleas to continue. I’m not alone in my love for this place. I hear Marcia may have been convinced to continue for another year. I sure hope so.
Traditions aren’t just routines. Traditions are more than memories. Traditions are feelings. You have eleven months or so to decide what your Christmas traditions are. In each of the three stories I shared there were a few common threads. Each individual was carrying on a tradition started by their parents, so think about that parents – are you doing something worthy of continuing? Each tradition grew over time into something bigger than intended. In each case, the tradition was relatively easy to start and a struggle to end. Traditions can be a lot of work, but it is hard to willingly end something lovely. Traditions can live on in ways never imagined at their start and are likely appreciated far deeper than known.
If you can visit Marcia’s you won’t regret it. The lights are on for a couple more days. If you can’t make it in person click here for a video that provides a glimpse.