December is a confusing month. It never feels accurately represented anywhere in my opinion. Watching things about the holidays and seeing all the standard shit that pops up in this month always feels wrong. Advertisements don’t do it right and all the big Christmas movies don’t really ever do it right either. I think a substantial part of the problem is that Christmastime becomes very loud, raucous, and sterile against its own will. Yes, it is largely because the holiday has been steamrolled by consumerism, but that’s not really news. I think the volume of holiday comes from how habitual it is. Something consistent to look forward to, where people do the same things and wear the same stuff and drink the holiday drinks, et cetera. It’s a calendar routine that marks a completed year, and I think that spreads and oversaturates, casting an icky, clumped sludge of fabricated holiday spirit and corporate hullabaloo that is just as regular as a random Tuesday in April. Opening my piece this way definitely makes it seem like I don’t have any holiday spirit, which is entirely untrue. I just have a weird relationship with Christmastime. I love it dearly, but there’s a very particular strain of distanciation and vacancy that crops up in this month. Driving through my regular places, which sway somewhere in between suburban, rurality, and soft urbanism, there’s a new warmth that pops up during December that is matched with an equivalent loneliness. I find this word trite, but it really is melancholic, and it’s certainly bittersweet. Everyone moves in closer to each other to stay warm, and they move their activities inside. Quality time contains a nearness that isn’t present in the rest of the year. At the same time, it’s yet another December, where the cold eases in and settles down. It gets darker much earlier and the world feels much slower, lonelier, and dense. It is a strange and conflicting time. The holidays are about togetherness, evidently. I think about this while I drive around during December and I see all the Christmas lights dancing along balconies and up in trees. Who lit those lamps behind those curtains? Who strung those lights around their balcony railing? What company is within the confines of each of these rooms? What relationships are warming all of these walls?
It has been a very difficult year for all of us. Amidst the bleakness and isolation that this year has crammed down all of our throats, having to sit beneath all the “unprecedented, troubling times” bullshit is even more vacating and nauseating and makes the whole thing feel even more hollow and doomed. I’m a glass half full kind of person, and I am known to be that, so you may take my views of this film, the holidays as a whole, and honestly my life right now in general as true to form, coated in my standard happy-go-lucky optimism, which is entirely okay. This year has trampled me with some of the bests and worsts of my life so far. The future is oblique, prickly, and entirely abyssal and I’m certain that fear is not a trait that is unique to me. The walls of my tiny little room feel particularly narrower than they have before. However, at the same time, when I am driving back to my house, I can see my window from the street through the trees. I can see my lamp peeking out through the dark and lighting up my room. I can see the poster that I had framed and successfully hung up after 3 months of feeling so defeated and vacant that I couldn’t even manage to rig the screw into the drywall. I’m wearing all black but my socks are cozy. I can smell new carpeting, and pretzel M&Ms, and my dryer sheets on borrowed clothing. The string lights are working, even though I have to pull the couch forward to plug them in. The lamp works great, even though I bump my hand into it when I reach for my water bottle. I should get a straw for that.
A very wise person in my life once said to “always look for the contradictions, because that is where the truth reveals itself.” The cold closes in around us in December. The onset of winter is a very sad thing. Thus, we turn to each other to warm our souls back up. We turn to little decorations and twinkly sparkly somethings lined around our trees and our lampposts. When a person puts up their own lights, it warms their own space and offers a shred of that warmth to the world outside. Everyone in their own worlds does that together and it accumulates to quite the shimmering glow. That is all the holiday season needs to be, I think.
Anyway, all of this indulgent waxing to be said, Marie Menken’s Lights explores this with a very quiet, youthful gentleness. Menken slings her camera around with the fuzzy abandon that blankets the month of December for many of us. I recommend y’all watch it. It’s the only Christmas movie that accurately captures the warmth that slowly eases into our increasingly frigid winter lives. It is an entirely lonely and entirely comforting, snug piece of filmmaking. It’s my favorite one.
Whoever is reading this, in December of 2020 and beyond, hope you’re staying warm and lovely. Go buy a set of twinkle lights or set up a new lamp, or just reach toward any little slices of light that poke their heads into your universe. It does all of us good.