‘It happened just now. There was no forethought. It simply grew from everyone’s desire for beauty, joy, and connection.’
It all started in November 2020 with a thoughtful gesture by one man to show support for a neighbour who was going through a difficult time. Matt Riggs hung a single strand of white Christmas lights from his house to his neighbour Kim Morton’s house directly across the street to show her that their families were always connected despite their pandemic isolation. “I was reaching out to Kim to literally brighten her world,” Riggs told The Washington Post, who also left a tin of homemade cookies on her doorstep. The 48-year-old said he knew Morton was going through a rough patch because she’d told him about her struggles with depression and anxiety.
Riggs, like many Americans that year, could identify with what his neighbour was going through. He was struggling himself, what with having to guide two teenagers through remote school and being consumed by financial anxiety. “By the end of the year I was just beside myself, 2020 was difficult for a lot of us,” he said. This was what drove him to shed some light on Morton’s world. He had no idea that his single strand of Christmas lights would spark a community-wide display of connectedness.
Other residents on Dunkirk Road in Towson, just north of Baltimore, followed Riggs’ lead in the days following his light-hanging to show support. Several lines of Christmas lights were soon strung from one side of the street to the other. One of the first to recreate Riggs’ holiday gesture was Leabe Commisso, who lives on the other end of the block. “I said to my neighbor: ‘Let’s do it, too,'” she recalled. “Before we knew it, we were cleaning out Home Depot of all the lights.”
“Little by little, the whole neighborhood started doing it,” said Morton, who has lived in Rodgers Forge for 17 years. “The lights were a physical sign of connection and love.” Morton and Riggs stood there in awe as their neighbours climbed onto their roofs and tangled in trees to hang the lights horizontally. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the community felt connected—even though everyone was masked and kept a social distance from each other. “What blows my mind is that it was all organic,” Riggs said. “It just happened. There was no planning. It just grew out of everybody’s desire for beauty and joy and connection.”
“Genuinely brought tears to my eyes,” Riggs added. “From such a humble beginning, a tiny little act, it became this event.” Although he initially started out wanting to support Morton, “it turns out, we all needed this,” he said. Melissa DiMuzio, who lives on the same block with her wife and two children, agreed. “It was a tough time. We were all struggling in our own way,” she said. “I really wanted to participate.” DiMuzio expanded on the community light display by creating a lighted sign that reads “Love Lives Here” and hanging it above the street. “I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of person,” she said. “I stayed up all night bending dry cleaning coat hangers. It was crazy, but it worked.”
The neighbourhood decided to make the collective display an annual event, pandemic or no pandemic. On November 21, the following year, they hung their lights together.”We made a party of it,” Riggs explained. On Facebook, he wrote about the community-wide light show: “From one strand between two houses, to hundreds of strands throughout the community, a new tradition is born. The Year 2020 was a long, dark time of isolation, anxiety, frustration and depression for many (most?) of us. 2021 wasn’t much better. So the Baltimore County community of Rodgers Forge strung lights from house to house, connecting homes, connecting friends, bringing light to one another. From a very humble beginning of one strand in November 2020 to hundreds of lights throughout the neighborhood, tens of thousands of likes, thousands of shares, and millions of smiles. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! Here’s to a BRIGHT 2022.”