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An ugly lamp sparks the Christmas spirit

Suzanne Arruda's story, "How to Find a Home For an Ugly Lamp" (Nov. 30; www.csmonitor.com/2005/1130/p18s03-hfes.html), sparked my interest because here in Margaretville, N.Y., a Catskill Mountain village, we gleefully celebrate the holidays with an Ugly Lamp tradition. It's a custom dating back to 1996 that raises money for our Community Christmas Project.

The annual project focuses on our neighbors in need: economically-disadvantaged families, shut-in seniors, and the recently bereaved. Wrapped gifts, winter accessories, turkey dinners, and food baskets are distributed throughout our area. Poinsettias go to families that have recently lost loved ones.

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A popular auction that helps raise money for this effort offers goods and services donated by individuals and businesses. Nine years ago, someone donated an impossibly hideous lamp, a red plastic monstrosity that has since become the focal point of fierce bidding wars.

Prompting much derisive laughter that first year, the lamp - to our surprise - sold for about $100. The following year, the original purchaser redonated the lamp, and bidding became highly competitive, garnering $700 for the project's coffers.

Each year since, the owner has relinquished the lamp after a year. Most recently it was auctioned for an astounding $2,100. The base of the lamp is crowded with brass plaques bearing the names of the businesses and individuals who have "bought" the lamp and earned the honor of displaying it in their homes or places of business.

When I saw the title of Ms. Arruda's essay, I wondered if another community could be mirroring our tradition. Her story affectionately describes the pleasures of turning trash into treasures while spurring a community to rise to the spirit of giving. I am pleased to believe that we are still the only town in the world that celebrates our holidays of light with an Ugly Lamp, a symbol of community generosity throughout the year. As the most recent advertisement for the event noted, "Ugly is Beautiful." How very true.


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