We are now in true countdown to the most beloved day of the year. One day after that is my least favorite day of the year, but that is another story.

This is the first time in 32 years that I have not celebrated the holiday in Los Banos. I always enjoyed decorating my two-story home on Page, and loved driving around town to see who had done what that year. Penny Glick’s home was always high on my list. Her family’s dedication to their tradition is incredible.

Los Banos’ Christmas parade is another festive custom I have only missed a few times. Two years ago, the Christmas Grinch running around in all his green fury made me laugh for a long time. There is something so magical about watching our school bands, smiling at the young student dancers, and the decorated trucks filled with enthusiastic citizens shouting out to their friends.

The moment our city Christmas tree is lit seems as big of a deal to me as the lighting of the giant tree at Rockefeller Center. Just as when I was a child, the lighting of what seemed to be a gigantic tree was lit in front of Hudson’s in Detroit. It was one of the highlights of the year to me.

Tradition! I have given a lot of special thought to that word this year. Some traditions were just not possible, I realize, so this year I am trying to find new customs that will grow in value over the years to come. I have hope for that because of what has happened already.

When I moved into this complex, I was told with much authority that ‘we’ do not decorate here. I smiled when, as Halloween approached, I began to notice at least a few people indeed did decorate. After Thanksgiving I put out my wreath and a few other decorations for my porch and added my seasonal flag, and so did my neighbors.

My neighbor, Rosemary, was the first gift I received in Fresno. Our kitchen windows face each other, so we watch out for each other in a respectful way. If I make soup or chili then I bring her a bowl. If she makes cookies, I get a plate. I take the Fresno Bee and when I am done with it, I put it on her porch. She takes People Magazine and when she is done with it, it shows up on my porch.

Be it occasional shopping, a lunch or a calming glass of wine, bit by bit a friendship is being born and I say hurray for that. We commented last night that it seems every day another house has put up Christmas lights. One poor man almost fell off the roof.

My dog Yogi especially likes the addition of colored lights and inflatable snowmen. I had read about Fresno’s Candy Cane Lane, and was curious, but knew I could not handle driving in the dark amongst what was sure to be a crowd. My granddaughter Jessica and her new husband Ricky offered to come over and take me.

It has been said that if Paris is the City of Lights, then Fresno, in December, is the City of Christmas Lights (and indeed it is the largest show of its kind). The more-than two mile route through a forested area runs between Van Ness and Shields and is put on by the residents. Every year billions of lights glisten in over 300 trees amidst 140+ lavishly decorated homes.

In the Fig Garden neighborhood. This year was the 100th anniversary of the event and it was really tear provokingly beautiful. This magical event began in 1920 as a tribute to a young child who had lived on the street and died. A tree was decorated in their memory. Since then, the tradition has grown, a gesture of love repeated each year and brings much goodwill.

I have also been enjoying the fellowship of a church in Clovis that has done much to help mend my rather tattered spirit. Giving to others is always good medicine for the soul. Getting back into the world of service was like a cup of good strong coffee for me.

Last week the church held its Christmas Pageant called Away in the Manger. There just is nothing cuter than little children dressed up as the three kings, the innkeeper, Mary and Joseph. They were well rehearsed and all did beautifully. The only problem was that they had no shepherds or animals. So, the call went out for adults for volunteers. A man, another woman and myself stepped up and created costumes out of remnants in the costume box. We looked like very rugged and worn shepherds. We were given bent plastic canes to hold and were told to act like we were watching the sheep. Improvise, they said.

They didn’t know who they were talking to. Tell me to improvise and I will. The man had his dog with him and his dog, Sally, made a very good sheep. I had a wonderful time chasing after sheep, then looking up in awe at the angles. And it actually became an emotional evening for me when I imagined how those real shepherds must have felt.

We closed the show with a great version of Away in the Manger and then Joy to the World. Which seems a very good place to stop.

Merry Christmas and may there truly be Joy in the world.

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.