How One Neighbor Sparks Community Light Display with Single String of Christmas Lights
2020 was a difficult year. For many, the frustration and heartache of a year spent in isolation culminated in an extremely stressful holiday season. Baltimore resident Matt Riggs had had a lousy year, and though he usually waits until December to decorate, he decided to hang lights early in an attempt to hasten the Christmas cheer. As he was hanging lights in his front yard, he looked across to his neighbor Kim Morton's house and had an idea.
"I wanted to stretch the lights across partially out of curiosity—to see if it would work," he told Southern Living. "But also to represent light in a time of darkness. I was feeling broken and stuck and frustrated, and I know Kim was, too."
At the time, Kim was dealing with a lot. She was struggling with depression and anxiety, grieving the loss of a loved one, and trying to manage work-related stress.
So, Matt wound a single string of lights around his tree, walked it across the street, then wrapped it around a tree in Kim's front yard. Matt's wife Kerry baked cookies, and the couple texted their friend asking her to come outside for a surprise. Kim was moved by the gesture, but once the rest of the neighborhood caught on, something absolutely incredible happened.
Matt's single string of lights inspired the Mortons to stretch their own across to the neighbor next door to the Riggses. Then another neighbor down the block wanted to get in on the fun. Pretty soon the entire block was crisscrossed with a canopy of Christmas lights connecting each house on the street.
"It went from just one light to two, then five, and all of a sudden it was everywhere," Riggs said.
The kicker to it all, Riggs said, is when his neighbor Melissa DiMuzio got involved. An all-or-nothing kind of person, DiMuzio wanted to create a message to sum up the display. What she landed on was "Love lives here." Spending an entire night with nothing but dry-cleaning coat hangers and Netflix, she created the signature sign that now lights the street as a reminder of the love and light the community has created through the display.
"It ended up being something that is very special to us all for a number of reasons," Riggs said. "For me, it really is light in a time of darkness and connecting to one another. I love that metaphor of it."
The light display caught on among multiple streets in the Rodgers Forge neighborhood, each adopting their own theme for white lights versus colored lights. Riggs said during a time when most people were stuck indoors without much contact, it was a great way for people to reconnect.
"We need it at the time," he said. "I needed it."
This year, rather than putting the lights up in a ripple effect, the entire neighborhood came together to put the display up—only this time more neighbors have joined in, and the lights now reach farther, connecting more families than ever before.
"That it took off as an idea is amazing, incredible," Riggs said. "It was something I wanted to do for fun and for light and connection and joy, and this is what it's come to be. The fact that so many of our streets and our blocks in this neighborhood are doing it now is really heartwarming. It resonates with so many people."