Columns, Opinion

Small Smiles: Bright lights, big city

New England is notorious for its winters. Between the snowstorms and the bitter, unrelenting cold, the unpredictable season is capable of lasting far into what should be the spring. Cities are forced to learn how to function in three feet of snow with temperatures nearing on zero — and Boston really is the epicenter of the stereotypical New England winter.

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, Boston has used the past few weeks to prepare for arguably its prettiest time of year.

Last week, Commonwealth Avenue held its tree lighting. The trees lining both sides of the walking mall were illuminated in beautiful white lights that wrapped around all the trees and hung over the walkway. At the end of the path lay Boston Common, which held its annual tree lighting that same night, complete with holiday music, hot chocolate and ice skating.

This is my first time living in a city and being a college student, but I have already realized how different both things make the holiday season feel. For starters, the season feels infinitely longer — wreaths have hung on the lamp posts of Newbury Street for weeks now, and fake Christmas trees have been decorating the dining hall since we returned from Thanksgiving break. The anticipation that comes with the upcoming break hangs fervently in the air, especially as a college student. It is no longer just the holidays that await us, but the comforting month at home that we are all so eager for at this point in the school year.

As the holiday season approaches, living here as opposed to the small suburban town where I’m from has taught me one thing: It really is not how many people you have in your life, but who. The holiday season away from home brings up a certain nostalgia and appreciation for the people that matter in a way that is hard to explain.

As I strolled along Commonwealth Avenue with my friends on the night of the lighting, I was thrilled to have them, and could not have felt luckier to live where I do. At the same time, there was one person that I just kept wishing was there to see them too. Interestingly enough, said person was able to make it up for a quick visit shortly thereafter. It was last minute and unplanned, and as cheesy as it is, whatever hangs in the air when you are walking under those lights paired with whatever hangs in the air when you are walking with the one person you want to be walking with most felt tangible. I felt like I could reach out and grab this thing — this combination of admiration for my school and for the city I live in and anticipation for the warm kitchen I knew awaited me come the end of finals and an appreciation for the people in my life so heavy I felt it pressing down on me.  

Cities are big, and they are home to many different people. The holidays are a time to bring people together, for everyone to make their way back home and reconnect with the places and people that made them. Christmas Eve at my house is full of people, and I find myself thinking about the warm, loud kitchen we return to after going to church that night very often. At the same time, this holiday season was different, because it was the first time I watched somewhere other than home unfold into home right in front of my eyes — under those white lights, to be specific.

And finally, as big and bustling and fun as cities are, no one needs 673,184 people. Sometimes it really is just one.

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