Dark Skies, Full Moons and Holiday Lights

I’m all for making spirits bright but not this bright. (Internet-sourced photo kshawnedgar.com)

We’re five days post-Thanksgiving. Holiday lights are popping up around the neighborhood, making spirits bright. But now I wonder if they are making everything else bright too. Too bright.

I like the holiday lights, just like the next consumer, but I have limits.

Monday I was sitting in a crowded chiropractor’s office. To manage the longer than usual wait, and block the rock music blaring from the ceiling speakers and the soap opera dialog from the television on the wall, I meditated on the Christmas decor.

Softening my gaze on an gold-sprayed grass arrangement in front of the reception’s desk, I recalled learning that candlelit trees illuminated the cold, dark winter nights long ago – sweet.

Imagine a cabin in the German woods surrounded by several feet of snow. The only lights were from a fireplace and a lamp strategically placed.

That scene was the precursor to our lighted trees. Sweet little candlelit evergreens, which have now exploded into blinking LED-lit trees, glowing Ghostbuster Staypuft Marshmellow-size snowmen and scintillating Santas with reindeer and sleighs showing up too early in blazing lights on our rooftops.

We use enough outdoor holiday lights to melt the snow around them.

Yesterday I walked past three life-size , 3-D, PVC and LED wise men hovering over what I assumed to be Mary, Joseph and baby in the same plastic, overdone blue, purple and red LED lights.

What would Jesus do? What would the wise men say?

(Melchior: “Nice goin’, Balthazar – now we’re lost.” Balthazar: “Well, that LED angel looked like a star in the east.”)

We’re polluting a beautiful night sky with holiday lights.

Working with Audrey Fischer (Read Audrey’s dream to restore starry night sky) – a Chicago astronomer and advocate for starry skies – I’ve learned that our unnatural illumination is several times greater than a full moon. (Read more on wikipedia.)

I’m a lifetime fan of the Man in the Moon but I sleep better on dark sky nights. Don’t you?

As a nature lover, it concerns me that our bigger, better, stronger, longer-lasting ways are wrecking our home planet. Our over-use and waste eats away at earth, sea and sky. This almost makes me cry. Not weep, mind you, but just leak at bit around the orbs at our mindless wastefulness.

I bought ice cycle lights last year, knowing THIS year I would be in my own home and wanted to be ready to deck the halls – inside and out.

Not so fast, there Hoosiergirl.

I’m making a list of holiday lighting options and checking it twice. Rather than hang that ice from the aluminum siding, I might put little white lights in one tree, wrap garland around the two white pillars and call it a night.

I’ll sleep better knowing I’m adding but a couple of candle watts to the dark skies. Sleep better too because I’m keeping most of my holiday lights under a bushel basket.

From what I’m learning, it’s fine to put up lights but we need good LED lights. (The electrified version of good cholesterol vs bad.) They cut energy costs but burn holes in the dark sky. LEDs are higher on the blue spectrum, making them a major culprit for interrupting our circadian rhythms, destroying melatonin, affecting our sleep cycles. Holey Santa suit!

What’s your bright idea to keep the skies dark during the holidays? Lets shoot for the stars!

4 responses to “Dark Skies, Full Moons and Holiday Lights

  1. I agree that decorative lights are a nuisance. I wish there were less of them. However, asking people to turn off Christmas displays will not be the best way to advance the issue of reducing light pollution. The loss of night is an important human health issue, an ecological issue, and a cultural issue. We need as many allies as possible.

    By far, the biggest source of light pollution is streetlights with parking lot lights second. Those lights need to be shielded down where they are needed, not into the sky. They should also not be brighter than necessary. Perhaps most important, their color should not have a high blue content.

    At the Indiana Dunes State Park where there are no streetlights, the sky glow provides enough light to see clearly, even on moonless nights. Most of this light pollution comes from the city of Chicago. Looking west across the lake at midnight, Chicago’s light dome looks like sunset. Every dust grain and every water vapor molecule over Chicago is scattering the city’s artificial light. That scattered light is causing the sky to glow throughout our entire region.

    Chicago’s light pollution may soon become much worse. The City of Chicago plans to convert their streetlights to LED. The public comment period will end in a few days. Here is a link to the International Dark Sky Association’s Call to Action:

    Please, feel free to contact me if you would like more information.
    Larry Silvestri
    630-618-7843 c
    314 Kenwood Place
    Michigan City, IN 46360

    • Thanks for taking time to write, Larry. You are spot on. I hope more people will be concerned about NIPSCO’s plans to replace all our streetlights with LEDs. Here in Ogden Dunes, there is a Dark Skies Task Force working with the Environmental Advisory Board. We’re in touch with NIPSCO about scaling down the lamps they use. We are keeping an eye on Dyer, IN, where lamp replacement is underway. Keep writing. Keep posting about this. Kristine

  2. Great post. I wish there were a good answer to this; I think the best one is “use a timer, ideally set to turn the lights off at 10:00 or 10:30 pm.” How many people are out driving around looking at lights that late anyway?

    I don’t mind the lights, or even the idea behind them, but somehow many Americans wind up with this Clark Griswold / Christmas Vacation mindset of “more, more, more” every year. Just like holiday treats, there’s a point where the lights are just plain excessive. Or to use another analogy, like alcohol and candy, it’s fine in moderation. That, and timers, is probably the best advice I’ve got.

    • Great suggestion, David. You’re right about the
      Griswald’s Christmas. Do we tend to make most things bigger in this country than they need to be?

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