The Appreciation Factor

All things Appreciation: Things to Appreciate and the Ways we look at, Show and Think about Appreciation.

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Illuminating A Time Honored Tradition

Throughout my life, I have either annually vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard or lived there full-time for a spell or two.  It’s a magical place and I often find comfort and appreciate the simpler times and traditions that still exist  – especially those I can find during the hectic and high-traffic month of August.  One such event, is the annual Illumination Night “hosted” by the Martha’s Vineyard Campground Meeting Association (MVCMA).  This is a magical night where cottages shine brightly with silk Japanese and Chinese lanterns as well as some modern-day paper ones, and 200,000 visitors stroll around the centralized Tabernacle to the tunes of the Vineyard Haven Community Band.

Illumination Night, once such a close-to-the-vest secret that you would only know of its arrival when you saw MVCMA residents hanging lanterns in preparation for the night’s festivities, now seems to be annually held on the third Wednesday of August.  It originated 145 years ago as Governor’s Day – a day where the Island marked the visit of the Governor of Massachusetts.

The history of the Martha’s Vineyard Campground Association started back in 1835 as the first Island campmeeting (aka campground) called Wesleyan Grove.  Primarily Methodist congregations from off-Island would set up and live in “society tents” that encircled an open-air tabernacle.  In the 1860s and 1870s, the tents were replaced by “permanent” wooden (and often-referred to as gingerbread) cottages.  Today, only just over 300 remain from the almost 500 of the past.

Some homes and special lanterns and paper parasols I loved this year:

Illumination Night 13 Collage

What I love and appreciate about this event is that despite the large crowds – yes, really over 200,000 are known visit on this night – there is still a sense of peace and almost a respite from the often hectic and quick pace we seem to experience today.  I love looking at the intricate designs and marvel at the lanterns that have survived sometimes 75 years (or longer) of Illumination Night festivities.  Not many of the silken lanterns, which were originally lit with candles, have survived the flames or challenging climate of the Island.

Cottage owners proudly display their treasured pieces of history and will share a bit about the background of their uniquely named cottage or their lanterns, if you only just ask. (I have also heard that residents who sell their cottages are asked to leave behind their lanterns so that the new owners can participate the following summer.  (I think it might be hard for me to leave all of mine if faced with the choice.))   One other aspect of this event that I love, is the tradition of having the oldest citizen of the campground – or one that has been honored that year – light the first lantern that lines the Tabernacle’s roof, signaling the cottages to do the same and light up their porches, roof tops and yards.

If you have a chance to view this event that can take you back to a simpler time, I’d highly recommend it.  If you’ve attended Illumination Night in the past and you feel as if its  “seen that, done that” I recommend taking  a different tack.  Instead of following the crowds around the Tabernacle, take the back lanes/paths and look at what I call the under-appreciated cottages, those that are not on the “main route.”   While everyone is focused on walking around the circle, you’ll find fewer people and often more creative displays.  (The pictures above, except for the top  two images in the right-hand column, were taken on some of the smaller, less visited paths.)

Do you have an annual event (summer or otherwise) that is meaningful to you, or encourages you to appreciate the simpler times?
Have you ever visited Illumination Night?  What did you think?  Is there a special house you always visit or a tradition you follow when you attend?  Share your story with me.



Additional facts/history about Illumination Night were obtained via the MVCMA website, the Cape Cod Online Blog and newspaper articles covering the annual event.

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Are We Losing our Appreciation and Respect of Other Peoples’ Traditions?

Especially in December, it seems that you can’t pick up a paper or watch the news without hearing about another school, town or community barring or cancelling a holiday celebration due to calls protesting the event for being too exclusive or that the name alienates select groups.  It’s a growing trend that I call being becoming too “PC.”  I almost want to yell, “Can’t we all just get along?!”

Are we becoming so politically correct in trying to include everyone, that we’re losing sight of our appreciation and respect of one another’s customs and traditions?

Here are three recent events I heard about this year:

  • Just before Hanukkah, a holiday concert was cancelled.  The school planned to cover Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs.  All of the big winter holidays were being covered, so it seemed that everyone was included – sounds great right?…  Wrong… people complained this time that it was too religious.
  • In another instance, a governor planned to not have a Christmas tree (which he said must be called a “holiday tree” the year before), at all this year.  He was so deluged with complaints from his constituents and the state’s Catholic churches, as well as criticized by the media, that he put up the tree and announced a tree lighting 30 minutes before. This time he called it a “Christmas tree.”
  • I also heard about  more and more schools eliminating holiday concerts and forbidding students from wishing each other a “Merry Christmas.”  Instead they’ve insisted that everyone say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” for all holidays because it’s more politically correct and inclusive.  (In some cases students were suspended if they didn’t follow these rules.)

I’d like to go back to a time where we saw value in hearing about and allowing celebrations for all of the holidays.   You learn about the diversity that makes us who we are.

When I was growing up, we learned about all sorts of different holidays and their origins. While I did not learn of Kwanzaa until more recently, we learned about US holidays as well as international ones like Boxing Day, Canada Day and Three Kings.  While I may never have celebrated some of these holidays, it was interesting to learn more about them, who celebrated them, and in some cases, hear the songs I might not normally hear.  We were tolerant of each other’s differences, and appreciated that we had them and celebrated them.

Perhaps because I celebrate Christmas I can’t fully understand why it could be seen as offensive to say Merry Christmas or not feel bad later if I’ve said those words.   In my mind I’m wishing another well at this time of year.  (If I know that you celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I’m always happy to extend that greeting your way as well.)

I’ll probably always call the tree we put up in our homes or in our towns and cities a Christmas tree.  That said, I’m more than happy to have symbols in my town that celebrate your holiday – like a menorah or one that would reflect your appreciation and celebration of Kwanzaa.

Christmas Tree









I only ask, can we please stop the trend of eliminating phrases, or public displays, or even making me feel bad about the traditions I have simply because other do not share them or they are no longer seen as “politically correct”?  I assure you I have no ill will for others when I use or appreciate them.

What  do you think?  Do you respect and appreciate the holidays that you may not celebrate?  Is it right to eliminate symbols from our towns, cities and schools based on the fact that others may not celebrate them – even if we provide equal prominence?