In our family, driving around to look at Christmas lights is a tradition.

We’ve been to all the commercial displays close to our former home in South Carolina.

McAdenville, North Carolina, which calls itself Christmas Town USA, was always a favorite. The entire 1.3 miles of the downtown in the mill village of 600 people is decorated with more than half a million lights. On trees, homes, if it stands, it’s lit. The spectacle so amazing, the line of traffic is often backed up onto Interstate 85 about a mile away.

Last year, some 600,000 people experienced the display, which since it was founded in 1956 has been paid for by a local yarn maker. Last year, the electricity cost $150,000.

But even more special is a look at what people do at their own homes. Photographer Maggie Beck took a tour around Tuolumne County this week and found some of the best ones, from understated to high impact.

At our South Carolina home, we swung between both. Tasteful white lights in trees and shrubs with lighted deer in the front to all out tacky in the back, complete with a blow-up Santa on the diving board, colored lights on the fence, around the pool and in the hemlocks and other air filled characters on the lawn. Oh, I almost forgot the lighted 8-foot palm trees.

It was awesome.

Google, as we know, is a friend to the curious so I looked up how this all started. And as you might not be surprised, Thomas Edison was behind it all. America’s greatest inventor, the developer of the incandescent light bulb, decorated the area outside his New Jersey laboratory in 1880.

A couple of years later, Edison’s protegee Edward Johnson made a string of lights, which then were mass produced, but expensive, meaning they were largely used by government and business.

Now, you can buy a hundred lights for the cost of two loaves of bread. To me, that just says joyous.

This weekend, I hope we’ll have time to see one or two of the well-known displays here. Maybe Global Winter Wonderland in Sacramento or Placerville.

The spirit and magic of Christmas shines through in all these places in the lights gleaming brightly through the cold December nights.

I asked for grownup letters from Santa, and two readers took me up on the offer. Here are their letters:

Dear Santa:

Here’s my list of wishes:

We ask our local news media to give us one local story a day that is positive, inspiring, uplifting.

We treat others with courtesy and respect on social media.

We blame perpetrators, not victims.

We vote.

We shop local.

We visit our local museums, libraries, and parks.

We update our broadband and cell phone tower coverage.

We improve our “Drug Take Back” efforts and find ways to conveniently and safely dispose of sharps and needles.

We spay and neuter our animals.

We hop aboard Tuolumne County Transit services and leave the driving (and parking) to others.

We look both ways when we are driving and keep each other safe.

We reuse, repurpose, recycle.

We hope all families/friends of missing loved ones who just “vanished” get answers.

We wish all suffering from a crisis of mental well-being to have enough hope to reach out, ask for help, and keep us all safe.

We each take just five minutes to do a good deed every day and make a difference.

Carol Doud


Dear Santa,

Bring us peace.

Give us kind and strong people in office to work for better lives and futures.

Bring a sack of “community” that comes to grips with the needs of all who live in poverty and all those who are homeless.

Bring common sense and laws to make cannabis available in our communities for those in pain or emotional distress, just as readily as we have liquor stores, bars, and gun shops.

Best of all, bring joy, laughter and merriment to all who search the night skies for the sign of your magic and the promise of a better tomorrow.

I believe.

Barbara Farkas


All of us at The Union Democrat wish you a safe and joyful Christmas.