ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The frost was barely on the pumpkin when people started decking the halls, which in any other year would have seemed fa-la-la-la-la too soon.
But it’s 2020, so of course time and tradition aren’t always timely or traditional.
In Uptown Albuquerque, Christmas lights were already twinkling by summer – a symbol of hope and light against the darkness of COVID-19 and current politics, one neighbor explained.
“Still just a few homes here and there, but enough to bring a smile,” she said.
Mary Martinez had the urge to put up her tree Nov. 5, five days after Halloween and seven weeks before Christmas Eve.
“You know, guys, sometimes you just got to do what makes you happy and not worry about what’s going on in the world,” the Albuquerque woman explained. “Looking at the beautiful lights, I’m just a little happier.”
Typically, we’d be bemoaning big-box stores for stocking the shelves with Christmas accouterments before autumn leaves have had a chance to fall. This year, though, we bemoan not getting into big-box stores as easily or as often.
Just five years ago, in a poll by Confused.com more than 86% of respondents said November was too early to put up Christmas decorations. This year, though, we don’t seem to mind hauling out the holly right after Halloween.
“Early Christmas decorations usually annoy the heck out of me, but this year I’ll just roll with it,” Stephanie Padilla wrote on a Facebook post. “People need a little warmth and happiness now, and if putting up lights makes you happy, go for it.”
And so it has gone at a time when things have been mighty dark, cold and unhappy. Never have the lyrics “We need a little Christmas right this very minute” been more apt.
Folks who study such psychosocial phenomena say this all makes sense. Decorating for the holidays shoots dopamine, or happy hormones, into us. It conjures up visions of sugar plums and happy childhood memories of Santa and presents and goodwill for most of us. It’s nostalgia. It’s kind of magical.
“In a world full of stress and anxiety, people like to associate to things that make them happy, and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood,” psychologist Steve McKeown says.
Jared Trujillo gets it.
This is his fourth year going all out with outdoor decorations at the Waterford Place NE home he shares with wife, Chantel, and two children, ages 3 and 6 months.
And by all out, think sparkling suburban Xanadu.
This year, he decided to start setting up his electrical extravaganza Nov. 14, a couple of weeks earlier than usual at his neighbors’ request.
“It was right in the midst of going back into a lockdown again because of COVID-19, and people just really wanted some joy,” he said. “So, we could do that.”
The Trujillo display took a little more than a week to set up and features reindeer, trees, snowmen, Santas, a truck and camper, striped roof and lighted archways across the sidewalk and driveway.
This year, it also features a shiny red mailbox for children to submit their letters to Santa. The idea came after taking down last year’s display and unexpectedly finding about 50 notes stuffed inside the mailbox.
“This year, we are going to make sure those letters are answered if a return address is provided,” Trujillo said.
In addition, a donation box is on site for nonperishable food items, which will be distributed to a local food bank.
“We just wanted to do something more for the community,” Trujillo said.
As if he’s not already doing enough.
Last Friday, he created a couple of Facebook pages – one called Trujillo’s Winter Wonderland on Waterford Place, which as the name implies focuses on the Trujillos’ display, and the other called Albuquerque Area Holiday Lights Tour, which also includes photos, locations, discussions and a handy map of other festively decorated homes around the city.
“The idea was to give people a way to celebrate the holidays safely in their cars, especially because most of the other holiday events like the luminaria tour, tree lightings, River of Lights and all that are canceled this year,” he said.
By the next morning, Trujillo said, he was surprised to see that the Facebook pages had amassed hundreds of members.
“Honestly, it just blew up,” he said.
So far, Trujillo’s house has been featured on USA Today, Yahoo and other national and local media, his Christmas light show seen as far away as Malaysia and Australia.
Which seems to be an indication of how important it is for so many to find light, good cheer, giving and family in these horrible, humbug days.
As a wise old grinch once said: Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.
“People want this,” Trujillo said. “We’re just helping to spread some much needed community joy.”
Right this very minute.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.