Christmas Past

christmas lights

[This post can be best enjoyed while listening to “Christmas Dreams” by Francesca Battistelli and may bring tears.]

Last night for our Advent celebration activity, my wife had the brilliant idea to go Christmas light watching.

It was a wonderful evening out with her sister and brother-in-law who are staying with us for a few weeks.

They each had their warm holiday lattes in hand, and I had my icy-cold Egg-nog frappuccino (I can’t stand warm drinks), and we were off, driving through one of the richest neighborhoods in Louisville.

After traveling down many streets and oohing and ahing at the pretty displays, I got to thinking:

Christmas isn’t what it used to be.

I remember as a kid we’d go Christmas light watching singing “Jingle Bells Batman Smells” in the backseat of our gold Toyota minivan, but now it’s more like Christmas light searching. I don’t know if Louisville is just that Liberal or if it’s like that everywhere.

Our generation’s parents, I feel like, went all out to decorate for Christmas with giant ferris wheels filled with teddy bears, sleighs zip-lining across the street from one house to the next, polar bears repeatedly popping out of giant presents on the lawn, street after street of dazzling, shimmering light displays bright enough to blind you and cause every driver to slow down and appreciate the neighborly camaraderie.

Streets were nicknamed Candy Cane Lane, and Ice Cycle Road.

Groups of friends went caroling from house-to-house in hopes of receiving peppermint sticks and cups of warm cocoa from grateful inhabitants.

Every night seemed like Christmas Eve.

Are those Christmases behind us?

Now we’re lucky to find three houses on a street that show any sign of Christmas cheer. It’s as if people spent all their holiday expenditures and energy on hanging orange and black Halloween lights and blowing up inflatable ghosts a month ago.

Halloween superstores open up in every county, but now those rented warehouses are vacant once more. Never mind Christmas.

In the ’90s it was rare to come across a barren house and those owners could be excused because they might be Jewish.

But as we were driving around last night, I couldn’t help but wonder about all those parents that went all out a generation ago.

Many of them are retired or nearing it and their lights have probably been thrown out, one broken strand at a time over the years.

Their children are certainly grown, and must not have time to carry on the Christmas-decorating tradition, because now we’re more dazzled by the lights of our iPads and HD TVs.

I mourn the next generation of kids who won’t ever sing “Silent Night” on Candy Cane Lane, or round the corner onto Prancer Circle to find one of the neighbors dressed as Santa giving out candy and hugs.

At the rate we’re going, all their Christmas memories will be trapped in glossy photo-albums, never to have been experienced firsthand.

Sure, they’ll wake up Christmas morning to open their Wii games and iPhones. But what about the rest of Christmas? Where the neighbor’s house imitates the first light display that shone over a Bethlehem barn. Where children sing like the angels over the birth of the King. Where families travel like wise men across town on icy streets in search of the brightest light.

And maybe where a polar bear pops out of an inflatable present bearing gifts.

About Andrew Toy
Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

48 Responses to Christmas Past

  1. Things they are a changin’. 😦

  2. Joe says:

    I miss it, too. Even when the light displays were huge or garish, they still had an innocent simplicity about them. It was pure fun. Now all I see is a bunch of people running around, steeped in stress, who breathe a sigh of relief when the holidays are over. That saddens me. Let’s simplify!

  3. Houses here don’t tend to “light up” until a week or so before Christmas. Must be the procrastination in my area. Better late than never! πŸ™‚

  4. Reblogged this on Authentic Diva and commented:
    A thoughtful reflection I just had to share! Thanks, Andrew (adoptingjames)

  5. Kristen says:

    I really enjoyed your post. I tend to think you went out too soon to see the lights and would give it another shot. People are just now putting them out since last weekend was consumed by recovering from Thanksgiving and travel for many. Don’t lose faith – the tackiness will return! πŸ™‚

    Here in New England, the tradition of holiday decorating is very much alive – although I am not sure about temporarily re-naming streets with holiday-themed names (what a great idea). Just last weekend, our small town hosted a holiday stroll to support our local businesses and the merchants served hot cocoa & hot cider (you would have loved it! πŸ™‚ ) and there was a bell-ringing concert and the lighting of the town tree. A lot of the homes in our town are lit with red and white lights – the color theme for our high school, which I think is cool. We plan to decorate this weekend though fingers-crossed, our neighbors won’t consider it tacky.

    Holiday cheers to you!

    And thanks for checking out my blog!

  6. justanotherida says:

    I don’t celebrate christmas, but I do appreciate the fancy decorations shown in old christmas movies. I hope the younger generation would bring tradition back to life. 😦

  7. I miss it too. I used to love looking at Christmas lights.

    (Btw, I’m not a huge fan of hot beverages either ;))

  8. We moved to a new neighborhood in the spring. Our old neighborhood was incredible. We teased the guy across the street that he was Chevy Chase… he was up on the roof the week before Thanksgiving hanging lights… he continued hanging lights until around the 15th of December. Another house we dubbed ‘the house Christmas threw up on’… there were representations of any and all Christmas ideas in the yard, it was great! We have a nativity set, and trees and lights all over. this year, hubby had shoulder surgery, so we are just at the basics this year, two little trees outside and garland and wreath. Candles are in the window, but it looks bare, just can’t do it myself though. This new neighborhood is bare, our street only has our decorations and a house two houses down. Sad, but I am hoping it’s the economy and people are being wise in electric usage… I hope it’snot a trend.

  9. Morgan says:

    This is a truly beautiful post and I love the image you’ve chose. Perfection πŸ™‚

  10. Great written piece.
    – Mumzilla

  11. huyones says:

    Hmm, here in California there are several cities with several blocks of lights that decorate each year. I can think of 3 or 4 nearby just off the top of my head.

    As for us, my practical 10 year old declared on December 1st that it was too close to Christmas and too much work to put up lights and we shouldn’t bother. We disagreed, but we don’t have lights up yet πŸ™‚

    I think people are busy, they say the post moderns have been raised to have all their days scheduled with things to do and places to go. That flows into Christmas and traditions too I suppose.

  12. Stephen Preston says:

    Okay, okay I will get my lights up. To think I was going to forgo doing them this year because I didn’t want to bother. THANKS Andrew for making me feel bad. Joking aside I am to saddened by lack of the Christmas cheer.

  13. I’m very fortunate to live in a VERY Christian area of the country. Christmas is alive and well here and the Christmas lights and decorations are everywhere! God bless all of you Christians wherever you live!

  14. directorb says:

    Great post! It is definitely a sad thing. I recently heard someone on the radio saying she tried to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with her kids, and they were all bored because it was slow and in black and white. As you said we have lost the wonder over the little but important things. Raising my own child I want her to have those fond memories that I had as a child. Thanks again for sharing!

  15. Hmm, perhaps it’s a regional phenomenon. I haven’t noticed any decline in lights here in KC, thank goodness! I agree with both you and directorb (from the comments above). Regardless of what the world is doing around us, we can still create meaningful Christmas traditions in our own families with a little effort!

  16. mlhutchinson says:

    There are a ton of lights at my apartment complex right now, but I do know what you mean! (Great idea to go Christmas light sighting for advent btw!).

    When I was younger there was an older gentleman in a neighboring town who went all out with Christmas decorations. he lived in a trailer and had a whole separate trailer that he stored the decorations in. Come December, his whole lawn was transformed into Christmas town! People would drive by or stop and get out to walk around, put in donations (towards the light bill!) and sign the guest book. It was a Christmas eve tradition for us because we had to go through that town on our way to my grandmothers. It was really kind of depressing when he got too old and poor to do it and none of his family wanted to continue it. :-/

  17. Tuning In says:

    Our culture kicked God out of schools and daily life. Today’s kids have no idea that God has anything to do with “Christmas” if they’re not exposed to it by parents who practice their faith. It only takes one generation if the parents don’t teach their children about God. (This fact is in the bible, recorded in the Old Testament as a warning to parents to teach their children the Jewish faith.) If you need me to find the book and verse, give me a few minutes….

  18. I enjoy the romanticism of nostalgia-but shhh, don’t tell anyone-so thank you for taking me on that journey; and I know what you mean.

  19. quirkybooks says:

    I love Christmas, thanks for getting me into the spirit of it. Congratulations, I have nominated you for 2 awards:

  20. Beautifully written. You write like a brilliant author, describing exactly the emotion captivitating you as a child. Your writing is inspirating and very accurately honest.
    I remember in school, acouple years back for me, I heard they (whoever ‘that’ was) were taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas…

    Now they’re taking cursive lessons out of public schools.

    … All I know is one day it WILL be better. And Christmas carol cheers will be felt ALL year round.
    I love how you describe Halloween and how everyone’s energy is now.. ghostly. Ha.

    Great job πŸ™‚

  21. I nominated you for the Shauny Award, the details are on my page, appreciate you!

  22. flramblings says:

    It is sad that in our rush to political correctness, religious milquetoast and wholesale secularization, the personal memories of bright lights, warm hugs, cold cheeks and hot spice tea are shoved in a plain brown box and hidden away. Too busy to take the time and too tired to care, we are all diminished a bit more, and the magic of Christmas memories are lost to successive generations.

  23. flramblings says:

    Reblogged this on florida ramblings and commented:
    It is sad that in our rush to political correctness, religious milquetoast and wholesale secularization, the personal memories of bright lights, warm hugs, cold cheeks and hot spice tea are shoved in a plain brown box and hidden away. Too busy to take the time and too tired to care, we are all diminished a bit more, and the magic of Christmas memories are lost to successive generations.

    Follow this link to Francesca Battistelli’s “Christmas Dreams” on YouTube:

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