There is a concept in economics called a "leading economic indicator," in which certain economic outcomes are seen as providing information about the direction the economy is taking. For example, sales of cars or of new homes may be seen as leading economic indicators, since such sales tell us a lot of information about the willingness of consumers to purchase items that are expensive and which need to be paid off over the course of several years. I thought of this recently as I drove around our neighborhood with my husband and daughter, playing Christmas music on the car radio and admiring the different decorations that have sprung up on the homes in our neighborhood. While fewer people have been hanging lights in the last few years, this year many of the lights were back and were brightly lit. It seemed as if the Decembers we remembered from years ago had returned.
I remember taking my daughter around the neighborhood to look at the lights when she was even too young to talk. She would marvel at the sparkling lights and goo at the ones that she found particularly enjoyable. Later, when she got a little bigger, she would add a simple word, such as "more," when she liked what she saw. And so we continued on to find even more lights, marveling at how lucky we were to live in a town where many people put an effort into decorating their homes.
I remember many of the decorations from those years. I remember one home that was decorated completely in blue lights, with a manger scene in front, and another with a large star suspended from a nearby tree. And then there was the huge stone house that looked kind of like a castle which took on the appearance of a gingerbread house when decorated for Christmas. We knew which streets would be spectacular, all the while feeling a little guilty for not putting a huge effort into decorating our own (modest) home.
As the years progressed, some of the popular decorations changed. I particularly liked the more metallic lights that appeared a few years ago, and understood why people would choose the “sheets” of lights that could be simply placed over bushes, rather than wrapped around them. However, the biggest change took place about four years ago, when the country found itself sliding into a recession. With layoffs and foreclosures affecting our town, many people stopped spending money on buying lights and on paying the electric company to light the decorations on their homes. I noticed right away that the blue house was gone, as was the hanging star. For several years, the neighborhood lights were less spectacular, and we needed to go to neighboring towns to see something resembling our familiar light displays.
But this year, the lights seem to be back, even if they are taking a while to be turned on. The blue house is not lit yet (I suspect those people may have moved) but we saw a star hanging from a tree on one street, and the gingerbread house is as beautiful as it ever was. I don’t know if this means that the economy is on its way back, but I do know that our trips around the neighborhood are once again a way to make beautiful memories.