Once upon a time, after an early supper on Christmas Eve, Dad would announce, “Let’s go look at lights to give Santa time to bring the presents.” At that time three of us loaded into a boat of a station wagon my mother had not yet learned to drive. A few years later it became four of us and a ’61 red and white VW microbus.

“Why isn’t Mommy coming with us?” Someone asked every year. “She needs to stay and help Santa,” was the oft repeated explanation. When I got older (wink wink) I knew “helping Santa” included helping herself to the cookies and milk we left for the big guy. 

When we learned Santa visited all our neighbors while they slept, we wondered why he came to us so early. We were helping Santa get an early start to his rounds. That explanation does not fit with route planning to save gas as we have since learned to do. It does fit with keeping an engine running while doing all those errands in one long flight. Magic flying reindeer must not need to refuel for that all night duration. 

Lights, Lights, Lights

The only colored lights at our house were on the tree. We were too far from the road above or below and obscured by evergreen bays and live oaks for any lights to be visible.

A short drive away were denser, newer suburban neighborhoods. Those houses were trimmed with seasonal light displays and floor to ceiling trees were displayed in undraped windows. 

“Keep your eyes peeled!” Dad repeated multiple times. 

“How do I peel my eyes?” The youngest inevitably queried. 

Cookies and milk

With no cell phone to check on how Mom was doing, Dad drove and drove and somehow guessed when we had “Oooohed” and “Aaaahed” enough. By the time we returned, the tree stood in a tumult of colorful boxes large and small. All that remained on the cookie plate were crumbs and a ring of white in the glass where milk had been.

Suburban extravagance

Nowadays I live in one of those houses facing a sidewalk where we can see a dozen other houses from corner to corner and beyond. Seasonal suburban lights and inflatables range from minimalist strands of all white or multi colored to gaudy tree trunks, branches and shrubberies wrapped in twinkling and dripping light displays. 

Around the corner true extravagance begins. Cars slow to gawk at the dueling displays across the street from each other. Deep lawns are filled with light strands drizzled like rivers. Charlie Brown waves at brightly lit deer and snow figures on the other side. “JOY” emblazons a tree trunk.

Yard decorations deflated
Deflated inflatables

The Father, Son and Holy Inflatables

We learned the homeowner on one side is father to the son across the street. Both of their homes are bedecked and bedazzled with lights. Santa views it all from a perennial perch next to a chimney on either side. Over the years we have noticed others along the street have enhanced the displays in their yards. One near the son’s house beats them all. Theirs is so packed with inflatables there is barely room to walk between them when all lie deflated on the lawn during the day.

A few weeks ago we watched “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and I remembered Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as tongue-tied priest intoning, “In the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spigot…” and it occurred to me we have a father and a son and some holy inflatables, for what is spirit after all but air, the breath of life. 

May the winter holiday spigot fill your spirit with ample air of gladness and delight to buoy your spirits in the coming year.


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