Although I was raised Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, the highlight of every holiday season was going out with my family to see Christmas lights. In Long Beach, California, where I grew up, the most beautiful light displays were always in the community of Naples, named after Naples, Italy. The community is built on three islands divided by canals which open into Alamitos Bay.
Naples is an affluent community with large homes and accompanying private boat docks that line the canals. Each Christmas, the community sponsors a themed competition for the best house decorations and light display. This year, the theme was, “Under the Sea.”
Until I returned home to SoCal last holiday season to see family and friends, it had been several years since I had visited Naples. I had forgotten just how beautiful it was, and I was in awe of the beauty of all the colorful lights reflected in the still water of the canal. It was early in December on a weeknight, so it was uncrowded—perfect for doing photography with my brother and sister. We had fun experimenting with our cameras and trying out different creative techniques to capture the colorful lights.
Amazed at how completely over-the-top some of the light and decoration displays were, we gawked and laughed as we hunted for the next photo opportunity. That time with my siblings was special; a lot of fun, much laughter, and some fun photos to remember it by.
This year, we returned on Sunday, just a couple of days before Christmas. As it gets closer to the big day, the crowds get larger, and the atmosphere gets more festive. None of my pictures could possibly convey the joyous mood and energy that flowed all around me. I found myself spending more time with my camera by my side rather than in front of my eye, so I could soak it all in.
There is nothing I had ever experienced during the holiday season that ever compared to the scene I was immersed in with my brother and sister that evening. Although the crowds grew as we meandered through the canals, everybody was laughing, gawking, and so pleasant to each other. Joy was in the air! Musicians were playing Christmas carols, a youth group sang, some kids were selling hot chocolate, and a man passed out candy canes to all who passed by. Meanwhile as decorated Long Beach Transit trolleys filled with spectators passed over the canal bridges, singing gondoliers below navigated through the canals as their passengers enjoyed the views up above. There were SUP paddlers with lit up hats, decorated Duffy boats full of partiers, and all sorts of other watercraft passing under the bridges as we looked on at the spectacle. My brother and I just stood and stared, remarking how beautiful the reflection of the lights was on the rippled water below.
During this most divisive time in our country I have ever experienced, it was such a delightful reprieve from the anger and hostility that has permeated our lives all around us. Joy to you all, dear readers!