By Hardy Jackson
When my children were young, one of the joys of the Yuletide season was riding around town, looking at Christmas lights.
Some houses are lit up with more colors than Jacob’s coat. Yards were full of decorations – Santa and Frosty and Rudolph, with his nose so bright. And if you went inside, I bet you would find a lopsided loblolly, hung with lights that didn’t match, festooned with homemade ornaments, and topped off with a star created from aluminum foil, double strength. No presents under the tree because everyone knew that Santa would bring them when the children were nestled all snug in their beds.
Other houses are more simply decorated. A floodlight illuminating the big wreath on the front door, maybe some smaller wreaths on the windows, a few red bows and that’s it. Inside you would find a perfectly-trimmed tree with perfectly-arranged ornaments interspersed among perfectly-spaced white lights around which are displayed perfectly-wrapped presents.
When I was younger, I thought this difference had something to do with an economic gap between the affluent and the not so. It seemed to me that smaller houses had brighter lights because poor folks wanted to add a bit of color to what was otherwise a drab life.
Rich folks didn’t.
Today, I believe it is because folks who live in the bright-lit houses have children.
I don’t mean those Southern Living children, the ones in the magazine pictures of yuletide parties. Girls in little red dresses with lots of lace. Boys in khaki slacks, navy blazer and white turtleneck. Children who look as relentlessly cute as everything else in the picture looks relentlessly tasteful.
I mean children who think good taste has something to do with chicken fingers, children for whom neat and orderly are alien concepts.
Children make the difference.
The house can be at the end of a dirt road or in the heart of an affluent suburb; if there are children there will be lights and Santas and maybe even a manger scene with the baby Jesus, who I bet would have wanted a string of lights in the stable if He had been old enough to have had a say in the matter.
That is how Christmas is done until the children grow up and go away.
Then Mother and Father bring out the tasteful wreath, the tasteful tree, with the tasteful lights and the tasteful packages, and for a few years live quietly, and a little sadly, wondering what their children are doing.
Meanwhile their children, who are now parents, are putting up lights to please their children and (they think) looking forward to the day when all they will need is a wreath and a tree like Grandma and Grandpa have.
Only, as soon as grandchildren come into the world, Grandma and Grandpa put away the tasteful and bring out the trashy – mechanical Santas, inflatable Frosty, Rudolph and the rest. They light up the neighborhood and leave a carbon footprint that would make a power company proud.
And they do it for the children.
As well they should.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is retired Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.