A lamplighter tends a gas streetlight in Sweden in 1953.

A lamplighter tends a gas streetlight in Sweden in 1953.

Could nostalgia be the reason people wear traditional lamplighter uniforms to light lamps along the Charles Bridge in Prague during Advent? An automated system is used the rest of the year. (Tomas Tkacik/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)

Could nostalgia be the reason people wear traditional lamplighter uniforms to light lamps along the Charles Bridge in Prague during Advent? An automated system is used the rest of the year. (Tomas Tkacik/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP)

This illustration shows a lamplighter in the old days.

This illustration shows a lamplighter in the old days.

A couple prefers the soft light of a gas lamp over the modern electric street light in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1948. (AP/Peter J. Carroll)

A couple prefers the soft light of a gas lamp over the modern electric street light in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1948. (AP/Peter J. Carroll)

This humorous drawing from 1809 called “A Peep at the Gas-lights in Pall Mall” shows reactions to the new gas-burning street lighting in London.

This humorous drawing from 1809 called “A Peep at the Gas-lights in Pall Mall” shows reactions to the new gas-burning street lighting in London.

Nostos Plus Algos

Posted: July 1, 2022

Caretakers look after around 1,000 gas street lamps across London. Some of the lamps switch on and off with a modern battery system. Others still operate using a more traditional method.

“Half of them, approximately 500 of them, have mechanical clocks that need winding every two weeks,” explains area manager Joe Fuller. As he talks, he changes a damaged mantle—one of the small domes that contain the burning gas flames.

We’re used to turning on our lights with a switch. Do you think you would enjoy winding the light instead? It wouldn’t save time. But it certainly would be nostalgic.

Nostalgia comes from two Greek words: nostos and algos. Nostos means return home. Algos means pain. If you’ve ever felt a combination of those things—a painful longing for home or the past—then you know exactly what nostalgia feels like. It’s not usually a severe pain. It’s more like a twinge.

Gas lights make Londoners feel nostalgic for the old days in their city. You might have different nostalgia triggers. (The smell of a school you used to go to? The taste of a dessert your great-grandma used to make?)

Nostalgia is deeply human. It reminds us that we’re homesick—and that we can feel homesick even while we’re at home! That’s because we’re designed to live in a perfect world in perfect fellowship with God. Our hearts remember this with nostos plus algos.

My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. — Isaiah 32:18