Families not rowdies
I might be a Montrose resident now, but I spent 18 years in the Houston Heights (on both sides of Studewood) and my family is still there, so my reasons to visit are many. Not least of those are Revival Market, Downhouse and The Creeks.
But my most beloved excuse to cross I-10 is Lights in the Heights. The second Saturday of each December, the Woodlands Heights comes alive with carolers, front porch rock 'n' roll, performances by neighborhood kids and come-as-you-are holiday parties — some private, but most open to whoever happens to be walking by.
There's been a lot of brouhaha lately about the death of this neighborhood tradition — with the Woodlands Heights Civic Association debating whether Lights in the Heights should go on before deciding on endorsing it with changes. People seem to think that because there are no food trucks now and the parade has been "de-emphasized" (whatever that means), it's a sign of the event's inevitable demise.
It was slower walking than many years past, to be sure, but nothing like the mini Mardi Gras comparisons that have been drawn. The rowdiest people I saw were relatives.
But the thing is, Lights in the Heights isn't some hyper-organized, bookable event — or at least, it doesn't have to be, and that's certainly not how it began. At base, it's a cluster of streets, pretty much the same streets each year, who opt to open their doors and avenues to neighbors and strangers in the name of non-denominational holiday cheer.
If your street's not included in the official route, you probably decorate anyway. If you miss the allotted dates of the event, you probably still get your family or a few friends together and walk around to take in the handiwork, stopping by to chat on the porch with people you know in the area.
Whether there's an organized parade or even street closures is pretty irrelevant. You don't expect the City to shut down neighborhood streets on Halloween; a pedestrian event like Lights in the Heights doesn't need it, either.
Last year, a reported 50,000 people poured in for the event. I was there, and although the experience was a far cry from the simple luminaries and small crowds I remember from childhood, I thought it was perfect. I'd just finished a 14-hour drive in a U-Haul truck from Kansas City, and I couldn't have concocted a better way to introduce my just-that-very-moment-relocated boyfriend to the charm of Houston than wandering around Lights in the Heights, visiting my second grade teacher, Mrs. Blackstone, and listening to electric guitar riffs of classic carols coming from friends' front porches.
It was slower walking than in many years past, to be sure, but nothing like the mini Mardi Gras comparisons that have been drawn. If anything, the streets were clogged with more strollers as The Heights continues to grow in popularity for young families, not revelers. The rowdiest people I saw were relatives.
There will be some changes this year, including an earlier time slot from 5 to 8 p.m. and more police patrolling, but I'm no less excited for 2011.
So however it goes, I don't expect that Lights in the Heights' 25th year will be any less bright than in years past. Rest assured, whether you're an area native or just visiting, The Heights will surely get lit.