Every December, my neighborhood glows. People wrap their railings in garlands, string colored lights across the street, and inflate giant penguins on patches of cracked sidewalk. Windows become urban snow globes, with everything from teddy bears to stiletto heels creating scenes of holiday wonder behind the glass.

Dear LoMo, my South Philly neighborhood,

I'm a country girl, born and raised in the part of northern New Jersey where people are more likely to run into a black bear than a mugger on their way home late at night.

Although I had a crush on Philadelphia when I moved here on a whim in 2001, I really fell in love when I bought my little South Philly row house. My house and I celebrated our two year anniversary in May, and I fall a bit more in love with you, my South Philly neighborhood, every day.



I love the cherry blossoms that carpet my block in pink every spring. I love when my across-the-street neighbor makes pumpkin bread for the whole block, lining up the loaves like row houses on her dining room table. I love tacos from Los Gallos and marinated mozzarella from Matteo's.

I love how I'm welcomed like an old friend every time I walk into Bomb Bomb for a beer. I love the diversity of people who show up for a neighborhood clean-up or to help tend the community gardens at South Philadelphia High (or "Southern," depending on how long you've lived here).

I love jogging down to Citizens Bank Park on a summer morning, passing ripe figs hanging from tree branches stretching out of backyards smaller than a parking space.  I love knowing that the Eagles scored a touchdown by the ruckus coming from the house next door.

But most of all, I love the Christmas lights.



Every December, my neighborhood glows. People wrap their railings in garlands, string colored lights across the street, and inflate giant penguins on patches of cracked sidewalk. Windows become urban snow globes, with everything from teddy bears to stiletto heels creating scenes of holiday wonder behind the glass.

For the past two years, I've "scouted talent" for my civic association's annual holiday decorating contest, knocking on doors and handing out flyers. More often than not, neighbors invite me in from the cold to see their tree, the nativity set on their mantel, or a train that runs through their living room.

They tell me the story of their decorations mixed together with the stories of their family, how their daughter collected the bears in the window when she was a girl, how their grandmother made the ornaments on the tree, how the flashing lights and music are about reclaiming Christmas for their little boy, who was seriously injured in an accident this time last year.

Like the holiday these decorations celebrate, my conversations with these neighbors about their families and our community feel sacred.



Although I'll be sad when the decorations come down and the lights go dark in January, I'll be looking forward to next Christmas in the neighborhood I now call home.



Love,


Meg



P.S. — If you want to see more lights from my South Philly neighborhood, check out www.lomophilly.com for photos of the 24 houses participating in this year's holiday decorating contest. The 1200 block of Wolf Street is also always a treat!

Meg Retz is a legal aid lawyer living in (and loving) South Philadelphia. She serves on the board of the Lower Moyamensing ("LoMo") Civic Association.

This essay appeared originally on Philly Love Notes.