Last Friday, my family and I went for a late-night drive to see the best holiday lights in our area. We had learned from the Internet that there was a nearby house decked out on an epic scale, so part of our mission was to find that house.
We saw a lot of fun light configurations — aspen trees bathed in red and green light, eaves garlanded with electric icicles, houses lit up in all yellow lights, others all in blue, still others all in red, and of course a bunch of houses laced with every color in the Christmas rainbow — but none of them compared to the house on Tincup. It’s located on a dead-end street deep in a nice neighborhood, but thanks to GPS, the line of cars winding its way to and from the house, and the brightness of its lights, it wasn’t hard to find.
We parked down the block and traipsed up to the house along with dozens of others, from couples on a date to parents with kids in their jammies. I’m not sure what the neighbors think about the house, but the visitors I saw happily took in the show.
The attached picture doesn’t do the house justice, but it rivals Clark Griswold’s effort from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Dozens of lines of precisely positioned yellow and blue lights were merely the backdrop. Three toy trains chugged in circles, two sets of reindeer kept watch from the roof and the lawn, and a real-looking Santa sat inside at the dining room table. Speakers piped Christmas music throughout the property. And that’s just what I remember off the top of my head.
My kids loved it. To my surprise, although all but one of the other houses we saw after that were put to shame by the Tincup house, the kids greeted each new variation on the holiday theme with fresh excitement. It was like hearing a recording of an audience at a Fourth of July fireworks display — lots of “oohs” and “aahs.”
Apart from wishing I could see the world with that kind of childlike innocence and acceptance, I came away from our driving tour with a bunch of questions.
Did the owners of the house on Tincup put up all those lights and props themselves? And if so, how long did that take them? Are they now on vacation for the next month to recuperate? Or did they hire out the job? Are they Christmas light salespeople or do they have an ownership stake in a local utility company? How much will their electric bill for December be?
Or more philosophically, why do Christmas lights make my kids so happy? What about all those houses that didn’t have any? What kept them from putting up lights this year? Was there a death in the family or a divorce or simply a growing-apart? Did grown kids move out and leave an empty nest? Could they not afford lights because the family breadwinners lost their jobs? Could they not afford Christmas lights even though both parents work two full-time jobs?
Or religiously speaking, what do all those Christmas lights have to do with the Christ Mass, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth just over two thousand years ago? Should we “put Christ back into Christmas” or give thanks that there can be a cultural and non-religious element to Christmas celebrations? Does the message of Christmas call us to live a different sort of life from the one we have been living, not just morally but perhaps otherwise, as well?
I admit it’s a little twisted that a simple drive to see some lights can prompt that many questions in me, but “light” has been on my mind because it is our faith community’s theme for December. Light has meaning because it stands out from its opposite, darkness, which, at least for many people in our small congregation, often seems to be the force most at work in the world. Thankfully, there is a time during the year when we can celebrate the advent of a special kind of light, born in the midst of darkness, heralded by angels. As the carol goes, “Glory to the newborn king!”