The two-story Victorian was built in 1889. My parents bought it almost hundred years later, after Dad retired from teaching. Mother had always admired the old house. Dad had a special plan for it, at least for a few weeks of every year.
Dad purchased strings of colored lights, extra bulbs, extension cords and power strips. He drew a schematic to show where the thousands of lights would be positioned and safely plugged in.
The morning after Thanksgiving he started hanging the lights. Mother helped organize dolls from her extensive vintage collection plus a few modern mechanical ones. Dad fashioned a star, then climbed up as far as the ladder reached to attach it to the palm tree, letting strings of lights flow down the trunk.
After weeks of preparation, one task remained. Dad put the ladder on the second floor widow’s porch. Bystanders gasped as he climbed up and secured Santa to the rooftop.
At 6 pm on the second Saturday of December, Dad flipped the switches and the stately aged house was transformed into a fantasyland of color and twinkling lights with wise men seeking Jesus in the big bay window and dolls in every other window, ledge, porch and yard. Children squealed with delight when some of the dolls seemed to come to life and when they spotted Santa on the housetop.
The street, closed to traffic that night. It filled with thousands of townspeople and visitors from afar who came to view the houses lit and decorated for the season, sip apple cider, nibble on cookies, listen to groups of carolers, and pause in silence in front of the nativity scene.
Dad was not finished with his gift to the community. A born entertainer, he loved to elicit laughter and smiles with tricks and funny stories and perform as a vocalist. Dressed in a long wool coat, a scarf wrapped around his neck and his head covered with a tall top hat, he made his way out the front door and down the steps. He took up mallets, two in each glove-covered hand, and tapped out Christmas songs on the wood bars of his marimba. No matter the weather he entertained outside for three straight hours. Sometimes he stopped playing to say “Merry Christmas” to those crowded along the fence or delight them with a mechanical monkey from his boyhood.
One year, Mother passed away in the morning a few weeks before Christmas. By afternoon Dad was out stringing lights. My husband, thinking the loss would take away his desire to tackle the huge project, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll help you.”
“We’ll help you.”
“I’m okay,” he said and proceeded to wrap his house in light. It was his gift of joy, even in sorrow.
Dad was 98 years old when he decorated the house for his last Christmas. As always, he insisted he was the one to put Santa on the roof.
This week I looked at old photos of the house in its holiday glory and thought about Dad. No lights needed on his mansion in heaven. The light of a billion stars must seem dim compared to the light of the glory of God. I can’t imagine it!
This time of year brings back memories of how our family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up, but I love this one of my dad after we’d all left home. Even though I first posted the story in December 2015, it’s worth repeating every few years.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL as we remember the reason for our celebration.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16