My evening walks this time of year are made much more enjoyable by the Christmas lights that so many have put up in and around their houses. And one of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around our town and neighboring towns to see the annual displays. We're talking 1960s here, so outdoor Christmas light displays were nowhere near as widespread or elaborate as they are now. It was really a treat because the lights were so beautiful -- like a fairyland -- to our young eyes. (Remember, we didn't have video games or even color TV in those days!)
Gasoline was cheap back then, so this was an inexpensive Christmas entertainment that my parents could provide for us kids.
I remember very few of the displays in particular now, but there is one that stands out in my memory and always will: Fritz Mueller's home in Sea Girt, NJ. My father always saved that for last because it was the grandest by far!
The Mueller house had a long, white colonnade that led from the main house to a summer gazebo. From one end of the ornate colonnade to the other they placed a large, lighted display of Santa and his reindeer. The figures, one per section of the colonnade, were expertly painted to depict a lively St. Nick and a team of joyful reindeer. The most exciting part, though was this: each reindeer moved! (Remember, this is the 1960s!) The up and down motion of each reindeer made them look as though they were leaping forward, pulling Santa's sleigh merrily along. I can promise you that ours was not the only car driving slowly by, children pressed up against the windows, eyes wide with wonder.
I have seen many displays since then -- many that are more lavish than the Mueller house of the 1960s. But none have stayed in my memory the way this one has.
Fast forward to 2009 and I have a new memory of Christmas lights to treasure. Last night we got together for a Christmas celebration with our kids (well, all except Abbi, who is still in Korea). Around 8:00 p.m. all 20(!) of us donned parkas and gloves and trooped 2 1/2 blocks to see a light display that is set to music. The sequence starts with Amazing Grace and moves along through a medley of Christmas songs broadcast on a local radio station. It's really quite something to see in person (I've seen a youtube video that is more elaborate, but the experience is much better in real life). Along with the lights on the house, the homeowners constructed an archway of colored lights along the sidewalk in front of the house. It was a little bit like standing in a fairyland.
Best of all, though, was sharing it with our family, especially the eight grandkids (whose eyes were pretty wide with wonder).