he older I get, the more the holiday season weighs on me. Snowflake die-cuts and strings of tinsel summon somber reflections on all the things that have not worked out as planned. Last year, after the Christmas tree figurine, indoor wreath, and holiday-stitched kitchen towels were already in place, my roommate decided to one-up her own decorating skills by outlining the window in our common space with white, twinkly lights.
My initial reaction to the lights (mild disgust) was directly linked to the particularly challenging year I’d just been through. I was jobless in December — arguably the worst time of year to be without a steady paycheck — and too busy cursing at my empty LinkedIn inbox to feel anything remotely close to gratitude. The preceding months had overflowed with life’s lemons, and I couldn’t bear making one more batch of lemonade. I had resolved to obsessively seethe in the darkness over all the things that were going wrong in my life and didn’t appreciate these bright lights interrupting my plans to feel sorry for myself. For the first couple of days, I winced whenever she turned them on.
One evening, I wandered into the living room after I’d just found out an unexpected auto-withdraw plunged my bank account into the negative and reflexively plugged in the lights. I paced our small apartment amidst their glow as I accepted the embarrassing reality that I’d be borrowing money from friends and family as a 33-year-old. And just like that, as I was taking in our common space through tear-soaked eyes, something shifted: The lights’ glow made things feel a little less bleak. In fact, the string of lights gave me a sense of calm. Everything they illuminated looked vibrant and full of possibility. Even our little IKEA sofa bed seemed to sit up with the confidence of an Eames chair.
Standing in our common space with only pocket change to my name, I suddenly felt so much gratitude for the life my roommate and I had built together. Sure, we had no closets and we could hear the J train crossing the bridge at night. But our apartment was full of all the items we needed and held plenty of the things we loved. As I rested my head on our cold radiator pipe, I took in the lights’ soft yellow-white glow and considered what asking for money really meant: that I was blessed to have friends and family to lean on. However immediately stressful my situation was, it was just a temporary financial setback. And without the forceful cheeriness of the lights, I would have completely missed the opportunity to acknowledge my blessings. Instead, I would have curled up in fetal position, watched reality TV at a depressingly low volume and cursed the bad hand I’d been dealt.
“I wish we didn’t have to take the lights down after Christmas,” I said to my roommate a few nights later.
“Well, if they make you happy, let’s keep them up!” she replied, not questioning the speed with which my skepticism had turned to devotion. To my pleasant surprise, plugging the lights in became a delightful nightly ritual that extended past the holiday season, into spring and beyond.
I spend most warm weather months rolling my eyes at the loud music and chatter on the sidewalks outside my apartment. But summertime with our lights made me feel less agitated and more inspired by my neighborhood’s vibrancy. Summer solstice came and went, and though I was still jobless, our lights’ glow distracted me from anxiously reviewing all the irrational reasons I’d never be able to join the American workforce again. And when fall arrived — a time that typically signals a body image panic for me — my body looked great in the presence of our lights; they caused a wave of self-acceptance to flow through me.
Of course, a string of lights has not cured me of body issues, anxiety or depression. Therapy, carbs, and Love & Hip Hop binges still make up the bulk of my comprehensive self-care regimen. But now I’ve added year-long twinkly lights to that list. Keeping them up year-round has served as a visual cue that reminds me to ruminate less on what’s going wrong, so that I can focus more on all the things I already have to be grateful for — and every moment spent in that kind of presence is a moment worth celebrating.
Illustrations by Juliana Vido.