The meaning behind a Christmas light car ride

It doesn’t help that it’s 76 degrees outside, and that when you file into the car, there are mosquitoes buzzing your ears.

But gather up your family, no matter what the temperature, and load them in for a spin around town looking for Christmas lights, and you’ll feel the holiday spirit, even in Florida … where it feels more like a rotisserie chicken than December.

The temperature doesn’t matter as you roll around looking for the most garish, the most over-the-top, the most outlandish, retina-blinding, chaotic spectacles of light that anyone can plant in their yard.

There are houses drowned in blow-up lawn decorations with absolutely no thought put into how they’re grouped together. Hula Santa in board shorts hanging with frigid North Pole Santa and penguins? Who cares! It’s Christmas!

Houses displaying taste and grace and a holiday sensibility with simple, twinkling white lights and dignified Christmas wreathes. And houses that look like their owners bought up the entire holiday sale aisle and then dumped them out of a helicopter.

Houses where the electrical service panels become part of the display as they strain under the surge of power while sparking and shooting flames high into the air.

Houses that — I kid you not — prompt family members to scream: “IS THAT A ROOSTER … OR A CHRISTMAS BEAVER?!? Turn around … we have to go back!”

Houses that surprise you, like pairing Stormtroopers with Rudolph. Or that make you do double-takes, like one when I thought I saw a life-sized figure of Jesus leaning against an oak tree. Turns out it was actually Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” He was decked out in his short bathrobe, a fur hat and an RV sewage hose. That was a bit of an embarrassing mistake, and I probably need to go to church because of it.

Houses where the lights flicker and flash so fast that you become entranced, lose a little consciousness and drive up on a neighboring yard where you run over Santa riding an alligator.

Which reminds me … HOUSES WITH SANTA RIDING AN ALLIGATOR!!!

It’s a Florida Christmas!

My family employs a complex, fine-tuned rating system as we drive. We shout “Frosty” if effort was shown, “Rudolph” if a house went above-and-beyond, and “Santa” if we got so worked up that we wet ourselves just a little bit.

And boy was it fun. Even the dog pressed her nose tight up against the glass.

I’m not saying we found the meaning of Christmas on a street full of Christmas lights. (Cousin Eddie mistaken for Jesus pretty much took care of that.) But how many other occasions will bring a family together in an experience so filled with wonder and joy? That doesn’t involve screaming, “Get off that computer screen!” for the 90th time? That the worries of the world don’t barge in and demand your attention?

Maybe it’s not the traditional meaning of Christmas that you find, but for one night in sweltering Florida, it certainly reminds you what it means to be a family. (And that Santa knows how to wrangle a gator.)


Also published on Medium.

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