This has to do with streets, I swear. Stay with me.
Thanks to a legally-binding joint custody agreement between my parents, we spent Christmas with my dad in Minnesota in the 90s- even though we lived in Indiana with mom. That expired when my sister turned 18 and college/post-secondary education moved us around. By the mid-2000s, my immediate family of mom, dad, sister, and I were in four different states in two time zones. My sister and I would talk every fall and pick a parent with whom to spend Christmas (usually Dad). The other would get Thanksgiving (usually Mom). Two families, two holidays. Perfect. The holidays, in my experience, have been about negotiations and traveling for as long as I can remember.
Enter the significant other(s). My husband’s parents are still married and when he and I met in ’09 all four of them were living in the same state. The location of “Home for the Holidays” was obvious for them and their Christmas traditions were 20 years running. One year, in an effort to accommodate this change, I made a spreadsheet to try to fit this third location into the rotation. As an engineer this was one of the first times I was faced with the reality that you can’t actually solve every problem with a spreadsheet. This added wrinkle in schedule negotiations for me- or the need to negotiate at all for him- was the biggest source of conflict in our relationship. I hated it. All the ads, movies, and my in-laws genuine enjoyment of each others company made my complicated family seem…less than. And then, if my sister was seeing someone with family in yet another state- forget it. So with that backdrop…
Enter the lights. Thanks to the axial tilt of our planet that makes our seasons possible, this emotionally-charged, impossible, unavoidable time of year also happens in the freaking dark. On December 21, here in Minneapolis, we get a whopping 8 hours, 46 minutes, and 12 seconds of daylight. The earliest sunset is actually on December 9, when my light-sensing display will turn itself on at 4:31 pm (click here for what that’s about). Or even earlier if it’s cloudy! The only thing that seems to get me through walking or biking down a street in late December is the Christmas lights. I’m partial to communities that take the time to wrap lights down each branch of the trees. Now that I’m a home owner, I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to this literal light in the darkness. This is also why I feel 100% justified in leaving the outdoor display up until at least February. We have to make it over that dark, depressing, lonely hump known as January. Here’s what we’ve done this year:
It’s a Santa, not a supernova, I swear
After years of renting, my feelings about being able to light the street are akin to my sheer joy at shoveling snow. I get to help! Nobody is going to be depressed or slip on my patch of sidewalk. The bushes we planted last year to eventually give us a little privacy on the porch have grown big enough this year to hold a 50-bulb strand of lights. I’m so proud of them; we’re hoping next year they’ll graduate to 100s. I did some extension cord wangling to get power out to them that makes me feel kind of like Clark Griswold. I obviously need to put a lower output bulb in Santa (that’s what that glowing mass on the porch is). Putting the big tree in the picture window this year means it’s visible from the street.
The tree, from inside the house.
Now if it would only snow and cover up the cords- and give me a reason to shovel…
I don’t know if I still hate Christmas as much as I did five years ago. All four of us on my side are in the same state now, so December 25th isn’t quite as high-stakes as it was. It’s the in-laws with four people in three states, but they’re managing. And my dedication to illumination, decoration, and generally improved “Christmas spirit” seem to offset the homesickness for my husband. It’s still an awful lot of pressure to be happy, but at least with better lighting it’s a little easier to not be sad. Also, I gotta figure out a way to light that peak next year without falling and breaking my neck.