The Gift of a Griswald Memory
by Holly Varni
November 21, 2013

Christmas lights

Each of us has certain memories from our childhood that stick more than others. When I think back to the holiday season when I was growing up, the first image that comes to mind are my parents in our front yard putting up lights. It’s an understatement to say that they have a passion for holiday decorating.

Christmas decorations came out early in our house, as in the day after Halloween. They couldn’t wait for the day after Thanksgiving to decorate which is a common tradition for many. Nope. November 1st  was our day. My parents resembled the Griswald’s in the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, where Clark Griswald puts enough lights on the house that it can be seen from space. Yep, that was my house. Tour buses, that’s right, double decker tour buses would come by nightly during the entire month of December.

As they drove by, my brother and I wearing our pajamas would dive bomb under a table and slink across the carpet to another room in an effort not to be seen, because the blinds to the front windows were always open to showcase the Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree was strategically placed in the middle of the windows to be the focal point of the outside extravaganza. On the front lawn, there were lit up deer, snowmen waving as you went by, angels flying in all directions high up in the trees branches, and countless lights twinkling from every tree and corner of the house. With the Minnesota snow falling, it was picturesque.

Standing regally in the middle of it all, was the Christmas tree. I know that memories can be enhanced a bit, but I remember the tree being wide and fat, nothing like the tall, slender ones today. I thought it was the most beautiful tree in the whole world. The very sight of it would have inspired Bing Crosby to break out in a chorus of Oh Christmas Tree.

My dad was officially in charge putting the lights on. Nobody else could do it but him, and more importantly, nobody could help. This duty was his and he took it seriously. With strands of lights draped over him, he circled the tree, careful not to leave an empty space. My mom would sit on the floor by the hour bending each branch with the same technique as a surgeon, until anyone could be fooled that it was real.

It is these memories that come flooding back every year as I lug my own smashed and misshapen tree out of the attic. While I fluff and endlessly fuss over the branches, my mother comes to mind. Anytime I see an overabundance of lights that defy fire warnings, I always think of my father.

My husband is aghast at the number of boxes filled with decorations that I unpack. “Why go through all this work?” he asks. In his no nonsense, rational voice, he says, “Remember, whatever you put out, you’ll  have to put away.”

“I know,” I sigh. But the question lingers. With the craziness of our lives, why do any of us go through all this extra work?

Here’s my answer.

I do it to mark that this is a holy season for all Christians, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I do it for my children, so that they will have Christmas memories of a Nativity scene and a tree that sparkled.

And I do it for my parents. With every ornament and Wiseman, I honor what they tried hard to give us…the Spirit of Christmas.

The palpable excitement they put in creating the magic of this season far outweighed any present under the tree. And as with most precious things, it’s gone in a blink of an eye and then we are left with nostalgia.

Though there are no tour buses that go by my house, and my lights will never be able to say hello to NASA, I find that in remembering the past, I work on the present with much more consideration. My parents with bright red cheeks and noses, worked diligently in the freezing cold, giving our family and the entire neighborhood a gift.

And it’s one that remains with me today.