Monday, December 6, 2010

Community lights

I have heard it said that Winnipeg is famous for its Christmas lights. Not world famous, or even nationally known, mind you. What they say is that the pilots know us. That the pilots that fly over Winnipeg, in and out of the airport here, see a difference between the night scene here and that in other cities. Tiny points of lights are everywhere.

The downtown strip is done up every year by the city. Various BIZ (Business Improvement Zone) groups also do their part, dressing up their own mini Main streets, hanging wreaths, stringing lights and decorating trees in front of the shopfronts in their neighbourhoods. The casinos also get in on the action, with lit up message of 'Season's Greetings', lights on the building and trees, and large lit figures next to the entrances. Even the roof of the Super Lube is sporting stripes of golden lights.

One of my favourite traditions in the Christmas season is taking the long way home. Once the sun has set, we will often detour from our regular route, and take to the quieter residential streets just to look at the Christmas lights on everyone's homes. I don't know if you could find a block without Christmas lights. They range from the truly understated single green porch light, to the massively overdone Christmas wonderland scenes complete with Nativity, Santa with sleigh and all nine reindeer, and light-covered roofs, fences and house fronts. Some homes boast large amounts of blinking coloured lights, to which my son will say, "Look Mom! A party house!" I am glad we don't live across the street from 'a party house'.

Last night, as we searched out the Christmas lights, we drove through one of the newer neighbourhoods not far from our home. It is full of impressive, two-storey houses built just in the last few years. Many of them have vaulted ceilings, attached garages, and sparkling chandeliers. They are open concept with large windows, through which you can see large leather seating arrangements and dark wood dining sets.

We live in the left side of a duplex that was built in the 70's. It needs paint. The floors squeak. The fence is old and decrepit. And it is certainly devoid of vaulted ceilings, attached garages, sparkling chandeliers, large leather seating arrangements and dark wood dining sets. After such a description, you might be thinking I returned home last night wistful, and wondering when we will be able to move into that newer neighbourhood. But that is the not the end of the comparison.

On my street, there is a sidewalk. And on that sidewalk travels the mailman, delivering mail from home to home, often with a smile or a nod for passers-by. Traveling east down our street will lead you to the community centre, which has a small playground, baseball diamond, and outdoor skating rink just outside its doors, and out of which runs a Mom 'n Child drop-in playgroup, and a local kids hockey team. Traveling a few blocks south of our home could lead you to the public school with it's large playground, enclosed by trees and backyards, or to the swimming pool, wading pool or hockey arena. If you are willing to walk a little farther, there are many more parks, schools, churches, shops and even the public library, all accessible by sidewalks canopied by towering elm trees.

The streets of the new neighbourhood have no sidewalks, just many, many driveways. There is just one large mailbox for 40 homes, and the mailman stops there in his truck. I saw just one small playground, and this was right next to the road, with nary a tree in sight. And there are certainly no wading pools, libraries, or baseball diamonds.

Both neighbourhoods are full of Christmas lights. But I believe that my neighbourhood is also rich in different kind of light, the light of community. And I wouldn't trade it for vaulted ceilings.

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