I love Christmas lights.
I’m thrilled when people want to decorate their homes like the Griswolds’ in Christmas Vacation. One of my favorite “dates” with Les at this time of year is scoping out well-lit neighborhoods.
You know what it takes to run Christmas lights?
And Americans are facing a crisis over electricity.
17%—that’s the percent of people in a nationwide survey* who said they were unable to pay their energy bill back in April. Another 22% said they skimped on or did without some necessities like food or medicine to pay their electric bills.
Imagine what those numbers are like now, nine months into the pandemic.
Falling behind on electric bills is no new phenomenon. The Energy Information Administration estimated in 2015 that a third of Americans had a hard time paying their energy bills.** Now it is likely much worse.
Some states banned electric disconnections in the opening months of the virus. Some utilities on their own postponed disconnections for a few months or longer. But many never stopped or have resumed cutting off electricity service for unpaid bills. And those bills just kept adding up over the months they were unpaid.
What is going to be the result?
With millions of children relying on remote learning, how will disconnected electric affect their schooling? If your heating source needs electricity (most do), how do you stay warm? Does your water heater stop working too? (Yes.) How do you charge your cell phone so you can make the calls to restore your service—or find a job or help?
What do people do when their utility threatens to cut off their electricity? They pay that bill (or a portion of it) while ignoring another, causing further problems.
Or they contact a charity for help. Some utility companies have their own charitable arm to help pay bills, as do some state governments. Many people turn to their local social service agency or church. Even before the pandemic struck, I was amazed at the number of calls my husband Les received at our church requesting help with electric bills.
Those desperate calls to charities and churches will get way more frequent in the cold, dark months ahead.
So maybe those of us who love Christmas lights can provide some assistance!
What if we made a pledge to donate a small amount of money for every house whose Christmas lights we enjoy?
This will add up fast, so I suggest you start small. Perhaps 5¢ or 10¢ a house. Maybe a penny or a quarter, depending on your ability to give and how much Christmas light hunting you do.
Let the kids keep track on a poster board at home or on a list in the car. (Math skills practice!)
When the season is over, donate your total to your church’s benevolence fund, designating it specifically for electric bill relief. Or give it to your local social service agency that meets these needs. For instance, where we used to live there was Ephrata Area Social Services. Here there is Boyertown Area Multi-Service and the Salvation Army. I am positive there is something similar in your area too.
Enjoy the lights! (I plan to!)
But maybe use them as a prompt to be the light
in someone else’s life this Christmas as well.
“You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)
*O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University