LONDON – For better or for worse, you can't have Christmas lights without a story. We've all got one, a story created in the gulf between spread-holiday-cheer and the-frustration-burnt-out-bulbs. Here's mine.
Like clockwork, my Iowan grandparents would wake our entire family on the Friday after Thanksgiving so we could watch them climb the silo on their barn and ceremoniously light the Star of Bethlehem. And like clockwork, we would curse the heavens if a bulb burnt out because one of us would have to draw straws and change it. My father always lost the draw.
As a result, his rule when my siblings and I were growing up was that Christmas lights were only for grandma and grandpa's house. Holiday cheer stopped at the border of Iowa and weren't allowed to enter the state of Illinois where we lived. Period. End of discussion. One Christmas, our neighbors asked whether we were Jewish since we didn't appear to have a tree at our house. That incident caused a slight relaxation of the rules: My father put an unlit, undecorated wreath on our door that said "Merry Christmas."
Now that I've moved out of the Midwest — first to the East Coast for college and subsequently to London — there are some things that always remind me of home regardless of where I happen to be. Excitement over annual Christmas lighting ceremonies is one of them. My grandparents no longer light the star on their farm after Thanksgiving, so I decided to give them — and my father — a lighting ceremony of my own, as only a twentysomething product of the digital revolution could.