When I was growing up in Southern California, one of the highlights of the Christmas season was driving around looking at the Christmas lights. Despite pleas by my brother and me for twinkling, chasing or blinking lights on our own house, my dad stood firm and hung just a discreet single line of colored lights around the roofline. No lawn display, no waving Santas, just that one single strand of lights. So every year sometime in the week before Christmas we would pile into the station wagon and drive to what my brother and I called Rich Town (turns out it was just North Downey) to see what people with too much money and not enough sense (my mother's words) had done that year. My favorite was Chaney Lane, a magical place (to my young eyes) where neighbors combined to create multi-yard displays. One year there was a Santa wearing an Hawaiian lei and sunglasses, one arm waving over his head, one hand on the tow line of the next door neighbor's ski boat. Another year Santa drove a sleigh with reindeer stretching over at least 3 yards, all decorated with artificial snow and huge dark green pine trees cheerfully adorned with lights and sparkly ornaments. I repeated the Christmas Light's Drive with my own children, oohing and aahing at the colorful displays that certain neighborhoods in Missoula, MT created. Although not nearly as elaborate as those remembered from my childhood, to my children the lights were just as magical as I had found them. But children grow up, don't they? A pre-Christmas Eve drive to see lights with your mom isn't nearly as much fun at 14 as it had been at 7, so I found myself making the drive less and less frequently until finally I stopped altogether. I still loved the lights, but they were mostly seen accidentally while driving downtown, barely remarked on and sometimes completely ignored.
Last week, while driving home from my mom's house after dark, I turned a corner and was suddenly struck dumb by the most amazingly decorated lawn I have ever seen in person. No, I am not talking about the elaborate and insane light displays of recent years where your house flashes in time to blaring music and the pounding in your neighbor's heads, nor the meticulously planned and well executed displays of long ago Chaney Lane, but instead a crazy mishmash of lights, inflatable characters and lawn ornaments. There were reindeer in groups and by themselves, snowmen of various sizes, meandering rows of illuminated candy canes, a gingerbread house, Santa's workshop, an inflatable nativity complete with life sized wisemen and a camel, and at least 4 Santas, one of them sitting with Mrs Claus in a porch swing. There was a huge green decorated tree, a dozen white flocked ones and a wagon loaded with presents. And the lights...Oh! the lights! They spelled out Joy and Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Season's Greetings. They lit the paths and the bushes and the trees and dripped from the roofline. I sat in my car at the corner spellbound as I gazed at the wonderfulness before me. It was the silliest, most gloriously perfect holiday yard I have ever seen and I laughed out loud at the sheer joy of the moment. I looked around at the surrounding houses I had already driven past and they, too, were decked out in lights and trees and Costco inflatables...and I had totally missed them!
So thank you, people I will never know in the neighborhood just north of my mom, for putting together such a tremendously joyous, incredibly vigorous and utterly delirious display of Good Cheer! I salute you and the no doubt hours and hours it took to hang and arrange and maintain the displays. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me remember that at this time of year, and indeed throughout our lives, we need to stop taking ourselves so seriously and embrace the silly.