Sunday, December 26, 2010
Last year, as I was driving down a busy highway after dark around this time of year, I looked over and could see through the trees what looked like the most beautiful homes all decorated with Christmas lights. You could tell that these weren't just your average bejeweled bungalows, the kind that dot every night landscape in December. These were full-on, all-out professionally done illuminated spectaculars, the kind that only exist in movies and the mythical land of everything Hallmark. I got off at the next exit and went to search for the houses, and I found them. A small neighborhood consisting of only three streets in which every single home was picture-perfectly decorated with miles of tastefully done lights, wreaths, and maybe a few other high-end decorations. And here I thought Thomas Kinkade just imagined this stuff. It was all right here in this little Christmas village and it was real.
"You won't believe this," I told the Mister, as I drove him there one night to share my object of awe. At 15 miles per hour we perused the immaculate winter wonderland, and while my husband thought it was nice enough, it did not grab him like it did me.
This year, when I saw those lights go up, I went back. It was just as picture perfect as it was the year before. It made me wonder if someone from Hollywood came out and decorated these homes just for the fun of it. I cruised the neighborhood and basked in the beauty of the season. It was a flashback to when I was a child and my family would drive through local streets looking at Christmas lights. For although our own decorations were simple and there were no strings of lights on our house, the children in our family certainly appreciated the brilliant displays of color that others created along roofs and around windows and doors. Oh yes, we loved to look at Christmas lights.
This Christmas, I experienced a longing for the ghost of Christmas past. And yet I know that the days of the Christmas that I knew so well, when my grandparent's house was packed with extended family, simple decorations, and reverence for the season are long gone as the times have changed. Maybe that is what I am really looking for as we drive through the brightly lit neighborhood that I will dub Hallmark Hollow. Perhaps I was searching in the windows not for a glimpse of an immaculately decked out tree, but for a memory of the child-like wonder that Christmas used to evoke in my heart in younger years.
I should have known it was just around the corner.
This was a Christmas full of little surprises. First, I won a subscription to the Pinecraft Pauper. Christmas greetings came from a few people I had not heard from in years, while some tried and true regulars were no-shows. Christmas packages sent to family and friends either arrived slower than a snail's pace, or didn't arrive in time at all. Nothing, good nor bad, could be counted on. And then on Christmas day, as we set foot in my mother's house carrying my red skinned mashed potatoes and bag of gifts, I got my first glimpse of that comfortable Christmas feeling for which I had been longing. The music softly playing, the mistletoe-scented candle, the branches of fresh holly placed along the mantle, and the manger display all sent waves of familiarity through me. As we sat around talking and reading aloud letters we had received from family afar, I began to get the signal that said "You are home and this is Christmas." The reverent, warm feeling of togetherness and holiness washed over me, and it felt like that child-like wonder had never wandered away in the first place, it was all still right here. And then my grandmother turned to me and said:
"Christmas today is nothing like it was years ago when I was growing up. It was so holy then."
At least I'm not the only one who thinks so!