Lighting Up Wellesley for the Holidays

Cheryl B. Scaparrotta writer

It’s easy to forget that the holidays aren’t supposed to be about overbooked calendars, budget-busting shopping lists, and too much to do in too little time.

So here’s an illuminating holiday tale that demonstrates that everything old—like neighborliness, simplicity, and a refreshing absence of technology—is new again.

Last December, two enterprising Wellesley women, supported by local businesses, set out to do some good for the town and at the same time create a sense of community. Fast friends Carrie McGraw and Sally Black both originally hail from towns that stage a nighttime candlelight occasion that brings families out of their homes and into the warmth of the holiday spirit.

“I grew up in Darien, Connecticut, where we have a tradition of a Luminary Night,” explains McGraw. “Each year, townspeople buy candles to place outside of their homes on a designated evening in December, and the money goes to a local cancer organization.” Sally Black’s hometown, Summit, New Jersey, engages in a similar event, with funds directed to a nearby hospital.

“We thought it would be fun to bring the Luminary Night conåœcept to our neighborhood in Wellesley, and find a worthy organization to donate to,” Black says. There was one key difference, though: the efforts in Connecticut and New Jersey are managed by an organization, “whereas here it was just the two of us behind the idea!” she laughs.

Although both are busy mothers, McGraw and Black used their personal time to seek out local vendors willing to help supply tea light candles and accompanying supplies for Wellesley’s Luminary Night. “Roche Bros. supermarket, White Mountain Creamery, and Green’s Hardware really came through for us,” McGraw emphasizes. “The supermarket donated candles and plastic containers, White Mountain Creamery contributed white paper bags, and Green’s Hardware provided the glue.”

With supplies in hand, the two women enlisted their children to help distribute an informal letter to all their neighbors’ mailboxes, which promised that if they purchased a candle kit consisting of a dozen tea lights, 100 percent of their 15 dollar fee would go to the Wellesley Friendly Aid Association, a non-profit organization that serves the underprivileged in the area through a variety of programs.

Oh, and there was one other detail in the letter: The tea lights were to be placed on front stoops, at the foot of driveways, or along front walks at five o’clock Sunday evening, December 9, 2007 in celebration of “Luminary Night,” radiant for all to see.

A Glowing Response
McGraw and Black weren’t sure what to expect, since nothing of the sort had taken place in Wellesley in recent history.

“The neighborhood really embraced the idea, and orders came rushing in,” McGraw recalls. “So we put our kids to work, assembling tea light kits and delivering them door to door in anticipation of the big day.”

McGraw and her husband Mark have three children: Will, age six, Morgan, age four, and 18-month-old Emery. Black and her husband Josh are the parents of 11-year-old Ginny and nine-year-old Will. “This was a great way to introduce our children to philanthropy,” Black says.

And when Luminary Night arrived, Wellesley’s Boulder Brook neighborhood was warmly aglow. “About ten roads took part, including streets like Beverly, Boulder Brook, Northgate, and Wingate,” McGraw says. “Approximately 120 families shared in the spirit.”

Not only did families place the tea lights outdoors, families came out to share in the festive mood. “A lot of people decided to have their holiday parties at that time and invite neighbors, while others set out tables at the end of their driveways and had hot cider or cocoa on hand to share with others,” Black says.

Some even went the extra mile—“Three families decided to hire a horse-drawn carriage for everyone in the area to ride, and it included two Clydesdales!” McGraw exclaims. “It was incredibly joyful, because everyone walked around on this otherwise ordinary December evening, socializing and, in some cases, meeting each other for the first time.” Because Luminary Night had been mentioned the previous week in the Wellesley Townsman, residents from other parts of town drove through the area, reveling in the dazzling scene.

The following day, McGraw and Black received e-mails from across the neighborhood about what a special evening Luminary Night was, and many expressed hope that it will become a tradition.

The brilliant 2007 effort garnered over $3,200, which the Wellesley Friendly Aid Association used this year to purchase new bins for the town’s food pantry, as well as sponsor children at summer camp at the Recreation Department.

The good news is that McGraw is organizing Luminary Night again this year, slated for December 14th (with a snow date of December 21st). Since last year’s success, Black and her family have moved to Weston, where she is considering a similar effort.

McGraw and Black are quick to point out that Luminary Night has a non-denominational mission and intent. “It is simply a nice way for everyone to celebrate the magic of the season, with philanthropy as a backdrop,” McGraw concludes.