Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to switch on the light” – Albus Dumbledore
(JK Rowling’s The Prisoner of Azkaban)
This time of year is full of traditions widely held and closely observed, but I have to admit that, with a birthday in early December, one of my traditional feelings at this time is usually some hostility towards all the “way-too-early” Christmas lights going up! It’s not that I want a big birthday celebration (the older I get, the less I want to think about it) it’s more about feeling that everyone is rushing past it towards Christmas.
When I was a child, my parents were very firm about separating the two occasions (which I think happens in many December birthday households) and I really appreciated it. My own children continue this, fiercely protective of the “nothing Christmassy before Mum’s birthday,” tradition, and are often more indignant than I am about displays of “premature” festivity!
But birthdays aside, and whether you are a get-them-up-as-early-as-possible person, or a last minute Christmas Eve decorator, this year definitely feels different. Strings of tiny lights began appearing outside houses and around front windows weeks ago. There seem to be many more than usual and the displays are bigger, but despite them being even earlier than usual this year, my customary feeling of annoyance has been gratefully replaced by a warm appreciation, which is a welcome change.
In fact, it really has helped to dispel the gloom… and with all that’s been going on, it has felt gloomy at times hasn’t it? The long dark winter evenings compound that dreary and “fed up” feeling many of us are experiencing. But even though it doesn’t always seem it, humans are a resourceful bunch, instinctively good at seeking a positive to cancel out a negative. A friend of mine (incidentally with a December birthday husband), put her decorations up early this year, “We just wanted to do something to make us all feel better,” she explained. If things are gloomy, add some light.
Light is fundamentally important to humans and affects everything we do. It is at the centre of our evolution, not only enabling us to see and experience the world around us, but regulating our internal body-clock that allows us to function properly. Lack of light affects our sleep, our digestion and our energy, our ability to concentrate, levels of stress and levels of infection. Light influences all parts of our life improving our general health, encouraging positive emotions and energy, and lifting our mood.
Our language about light is positive… faces light up, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a glimmer of hope or a bright spark. Opposite meanings to “fed up” describe light, sunny, sparking and bright… (oh and my favourite, “zingy”, which has nothing to do with light, but I like the idea).
We all need light and there’s no doubt that it makes us feel good. We are drawn to it and there’s something magical about the little strings of multiple lights or fairy lights…
Quick dip in to history… fairy lights apparently originated nearly 140 years ago when the owner of the Savoy Theatre in London asked Joseph Swan (one of the first pioneers of the electric lightbulb), to make tiny lights to go on the dresses of the fairies in his production of the opera Iolanthe. The little lights were powered by battery packs hidden in the dresses! How magical that must have seemed at the time, and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the festive lights are very welcome at this dark time of year.
Let’s face it, shops put them up early because they know it lifts people’s mood, and cheerful shoppers spend money… but cynicism aside, they do raise our spirits, and the lovely thing about putting lights up outside is that it isn’t only the display that makes us feel good, it’s the understanding that people are doing something for others to enjoy. They might see the lights when they go out and come in, but really most people put them up to twinkle away for everyone else passing by and this year I have fully appreciated the efforts that people have made. Watching the colourful lights zipping across the guttering and along the tree branches of the houses opposite has definitely made me smile.
And there’s something else too…
We can all brighten someone’s day, any time of the year, fairy lights or no fairy lights. Back to language again and it’s interesting how often we use light to reflect positivity in people too; she is a ray of sunshine, you light up my life, her smile was radiant, she lit up the room, his eyes twinkled…
We all shine in different ways, sometimes stronger and sometimes more faintly, but it doesn’t take much to bring brightness into someone else’s world, and don’t underestimate the collective impact we can have…
The summer before last, I went with a couple of friends to a Spice Girls concert. Everyone was given a small plastic bracelet which triggered flashing lights automatically during some of the songs. When it first happened, I glanced down at my wrist, a bit disappointed at the feeble little light, but when I looked up and around the stadium and saw the thousands and thousands of tiny lights – bright green or yellow, electric blue and shocking pink – changing colour together or pulsing in patterns it was awesome and feeling a tiny part of that whole effect was quite magical and strangely moving….
A light may be tiny, but together the effect can be stunning.
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us