Back in the day when I held a real job instead of being retired, I remember one December evening riding on a shuttle bus to an event at the Governor’s residence with a number of media folks from around the state. We were all involved in journalism either in newspaper, TV, radio or as freelance writers and we joined together on this mode of transportation for this one night to enjoy a holiday get together. It was a cold and dark December night, which is how most writers start a suspenseful story – or at least Snoopy does – but the night was typical for December and it did lend itself for a good night to see Christmas lights as we drove through some of Nashville’s neighborhoods.
As I sat there gazing out the window into the dark yards of unsuspecting Nashvillians, I overheard two of my fellow media types talking about how they had only done minimal decorating. They surmised that they did so due to the current economy and that they just didn’t wish for their yards to resemble “Whoville.” I still remember those individual’s remarks to this day, and as my grandfather often said, “It really stuck in my craw!”
Recently, I have just finished, once again, turning my front yard and home into a display of lights and holiday gaudiness on a day that the winds blew out of the north and I, too, could have used an excuse of some type to keep my lighted reindeer in the barn for another year.
However, I have been a part of the “Gaudy Christmas Decoration Society” for years and the economy has never really figured into my reasoning for lighting our hillside home with lights. All I have to do is reflect back to when I was a child growing up on our rural countryside farm and remember a very special Christmas shopping trip made by my mother to truly understand my fascination of outside lighting. I’ve told this story before, but I think this year it deserves to be told again. Our country needs some brightness and there is no better time to do so than at Christmas when there is no time for excuses.
In the late fifties, Christmas lights on doorways and houses were something you may have seen in nearby cities, but not on the farms in our area. Of course, everyone placed their lighted live cedar Christmas trees in front of a window or as close as possible so it could be seen from the outside, but yard decorations were just not that prevalent back then. I remember the visits to town at Christmas time and seeing the storefronts full of lights and Christmas decorations. The homes along Murfreesboro’s Main Street were always beautifully decorated with evergreens and lights as they are still today. As a small child, those homes were a wonderment of holiday excitement and hopes.
One year, about three weeks before Christmas Day, my mother and father arrived home from a trip into town. As they unpacked their purchases from their trip to town, they pulled out two long boxes that were decorated with Christmas trees and had the logo of GE on the front of each box. The boxes had come from the Firestone store where my father bought everything.
Each box contained a strand of 12 outdoor Christmas lights of multi-colors. Of course, they were the kind that if one burnt out they all would go out, but they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. My mother had saved back some special “Christmas money” to buy the lights to add some holiday cheer to our small Tennessee farmhouse.
My father cut cedar greenery and helped us nail it around the front door. Then he and my sister attached the lights to each side of the doorway and ran a brown extension cord to the single light bulb socket located on the porch. Each bulb was checked and the lights tested to see if they worked. After passing all tests, our outside display now waited for sundown.
I’ll never forget standing in that dark and cold December night in our front yard as my mother turned on the porch light switch. It was as big of an event to me as the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City.
When the lights came on their blues, greens, reds, and yellows blended just right with the cedar greenery on the doorway. As a small boy it signaled to me that the Christmas season had arrived.
For years we used those lights from the Firestone store. They soon lost the paint from around the bulbs and you could see light through the cracks in their paint, but they still announced the arrival of the season to our rural countryside.
So, I guess that is why I still put up my Christmas lights each year. To announce to others that the season has arrived at our house and to renew those same feelings I felt standing in that cold front yard many Christmases ago – a feeling of belonging and being loved by a family who cared to express the joy of the holiday season. Merry Christmas!
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org