We know the holiday season has arrived when twinkling lights cast a festive glow that stretches from houses on the edge of town to the green village and down Main Street. Lights, glimmering in every color, spread the magic of the season, shining brightly enough to lift the mood of even the sourest of Scrooges.

From Rudolph’s nose to the Star of Bethlehem and beyond, light is a powerful symbol of love, hope, peace, and joy, permeating almost every Christmas tradition since at least the 1700s. Back then, candles not only lit up the darkness indoors and out but also lent warmth to simple and natural décor, amplifying its beauty.

Of course, lights of many kinds are a key part of many other faith-based holidays and celebrations. Hanukkah is Judaism’s “Festival of Lights,” centered around the lighting of the menorah. Similarly, candles in a kinara are lit for seven days during Kwanzaa, an African American cultural celebration. Lesser known in the U.S. is Diwali, the Hindu “Festival of Lights” that is celebrated worldwide.

Regardless of the traditions you celebrate, holiday lights are irresistible. Once residential electricity became widely available in the early 1900s, lights were quickly adapted for holiday use, and their popularity rose faster than Santa’s sleigh off a rooftop.  As a new technology, holiday lights were expensive and handled carefully to last from year to year. Today many early versions survive as treasured family heirlooms that hold holiday memories spanning decades.

One hundred years later, the forms taken by holiday lights are limited only by our imagination–colored and white, bubble and flickering, steady and twinkling—they are as captivating  alone as they are part of elaborate displays.

In towns throughout Vermont, many families have a tradition of spending an evening driving around neighborhoods, over back roads, and through town centers just to see the holiday lights. No matter your age, there is something magical about their soft light reflecting off snow and forming shapes against the background of the night’s darkness. We’re looking forward to doing it again and to hearing our wide-eyed kids say, “Oh, how they glow!” —a beautiful moment of the holiday season that we always remember.