Don't ask me why we have a big-ass Mormon Temple in Oakland. (I mean, we're pretty much a pagan-worshipping, alternative-lifestyle-loving lot out here. Seriously, I don't think you could find a more Godless bunch outside of Sodom and Gomorrah.)
But anyway, a big-ass Mormon Temple we do have. It's perched high up in the Oakland Hills, and is visible from all over the city and even from across the bay in San Francisco. It's quite beautiful, actually.
Every year, those wacky LDSers pull out all the stops and light the crap out of the place for Christmas. I'm not joking -- I'm pretty sure you can see it from space. And every year, we make a point of visiting to soak up the spectacle. Last night, our son's school had its big winter concert shindig there, and we took a few moments afterwards to stroll the grounds and snap a few shots.
I don't even want to contemplate what the church's December electric bill must look like, but the holiday lights there are an incredible sight to behold and a treasured part of our holiday celebrations. So thanks a bunch, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
(Note: We'll be skipping our visit to the Mormon Temple's grounds this year, as our own little form of protest against LDS's support for and funding of the hateful "Yes on Prop. 8" campaign.)
We also make a point every year to visit Picardy Drive (aka "Christmas Tree Lane") in East Oakland. Picardy is an ethnically and religiously diverse working-class enclave in an often-rough part of town. The street is filled with adorable late-1920s storybook-style houses that sport turrets, towers, and parapets, despite their modest size and humble surroundings.
Each December for more than 60 years, the neighbors on Picardy have come together to decorate almost every single one of the 71 homes on the oval-shaped, quarter-mile-long thoroughfare as well as the small park at the center for the holidays.
It's truly a community effort: If someone is too elderly or infirm to do up their own house, the neighbors will pitch in to take care of it. The Jewish residents join in, too, with blue-and-white Hanukkah-themed lights and decorations. Strings of lights span the narrow driveways between each home, signifying the connection between the families who live there. And after the annual workday, the neighbors gather in the park for a tree-lighting ceremony and potluck celebration. (There's even a documentary about the Picardy Drive holiday lights and the community itself; check it out here.)
These folks really go to town, and nary a house on the street is left unadorned. Basic Christmas lights won't cut it, either -- there are lighted Christmas trees perched on roofs and front lawns tricked out with elaborate vignettes featuring gyrating Santas, grazing reindeer, and filled-to-the-brim toy trains.
(I'm sorry these pictures aren't more professional. My 9-year-old daughter basically wrestled the camera out of my hands in her excitement to capture the lights. And who am I to squelch her burgeoning creativity in the interest of clear photos?)
I've said before that I can get a bit grouchy and Grinchy this time of year, and that I definitely don't love the frenzied commercial nature of Christmas. But visiting Picardy is a much-needed reminder of what the holidays are really about: slowing down, putting differences on hold, and taking the time to appreciate -- and truly connect with -- our friends, neighbors, and loved ones.
Hope you have a good one!