If Santa were to find his way to Baltimore, Maryland, 34th Street might be the perfect place to land his sleigh and Bob Hoshier might be the perfect person to welcome him to the neighborhood.
The 57-year-old man has lived on this block since the 1980s, the year he first hung up a few strands of Christmas light. His neighbors eventually got in on the decorating and now, every year, this strip of row houses is covered so thickly in Christmas lights that planes landing at nearby Baltimore Washington International Airport might mistake it for a landing strip.
And this year, more than ever, Hoshier knew his gift to the neighborhood had to shine.
"It's been a terrible year. With the amount of people out of work, the kids that aren’t gonna have a great Christmas, and this is free, isn’t going to cost them anything," Hoshier said as he watched people walk up and down the block admiring the lights.
Turns out Hoshier isn't alone in his love for light. Sales of Christmas lights are up nearly 20 percent nationwide in 2020.
"With the way everyone is hunkered down in their houses, it puts a little joy on kids' faces,” Hoshier said. “You only have to put one string of lights up, you don’t have to go crazy as we do.”
But the holidays aside, there might be something much deeper at play when it comes to Americans’ newfound fascination with Christmas lights this year. In a year defined by darkness, psychology professor Dr. Krystine Batcho sees a reason behind those skyrocketing light sales.
"Holidays themselves are wonderful social or community markers for time. It reminds us that there’s a cycle to nature, the seasons' cycle," said Dr. Batcho, who teaches at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York.
With so many of our routines upended, putting up lights can be a marker in time. A way for our subconscious to reset.
"None of us can stop time or reverse it, but when you put up those lights, you’re saying, ‘I’m going to tell the world it’s time to take a break,’" she added.
In a year that has seen its fair share of darkness, Dr. Batcho sees these tiny little bulbs as lighting the way forward.
"It’s an act of hope, and we all are anticipating the end of the pandemic, so this takes on more meaning, more purpose,” she said.