Holiday Lights (#331)

I’m an atheist, but I love all the pagan trimmings of Christmas. Holiday food and caroling are some of my best childhood memories.

In college, my roommate and I went all out decorating our dorm room.

When I met the love of my life, I introduced him to the joys of Christmas. As a Chinese American growing up on tropical Hawaii, Andy had never put up lights, had a stocking, or gone caroling.

Andy enjoyed the novelty for a few years. But after we moved to a smaller house with hardly any storage space, he began grumbling over my six boxes of holiday decorations. The cost of our first Noble Fir sent him into sticker shock.

And when I pointed out how all the pepper trees around our house would be perfect for a white light display like this?White holiday lights wrapped around a tree and dripping down from the branches

Andy responded with, “Are you kidding me? It would take hours to put those up! Think of our electricity bill!”

He had a point. I settled for putting the Christmas tree in our big front window. It wasn’t exactly the festive arboreal display I had in mind, but I set the timer so the tree lit up just as the school kids arrived on my front steps and were awaiting pick up. (Some of them would cheer.)

There were years when I didn’t put up a tree at all, though. If we were traveling back to the East Coast, I worried that the untended tree would either burn up or the dogs would knock it down. And after Baby D was born? No one wanted to spend weeks guarding the tree from the terrifying toddler.

Andy liked those tree-less years.

Baby D, however, did not.

A snowman lying on its side seductively.
Seductive Snowman

Baby D, like most kids, loved light displays. We were within walking distance of a “Christmas Lights” neighborhood that went all out every year (this is where I got my idea for white lights in the trees). There were houses with Santa’s workshops, houses with illuminated Ferris wheels, houses with enormous inflatables (sometimes in questionable poses).

“Why don’t we have lights like that?” five-year-old Dalton asked me. “We don’t even have a Christmas tree!”

“But there’s a Christmas tree at Nana and Granddad’s and that’s where we will be this Christmas,” I pointed out. “They actually have TWO trees, remember? One in the living room and one in the basement.”

“But my cousins all have Christmas trees when we go to their houses at Christmas.”

“Well, that’s because they are hosting us and home for Christmas.”

“Not true!” Dalton countered. “Auntie Lawyer’s house had one last year and then she drove with us to Auntie Doctor’s house!”

“Yes, but she was only gone a few days and we’re gone for at least a week.”

Dalton set his jaw and said, “I want a Christmas tree.”

“Me, too, buddy.”

“Then why don’t we have one?!”

I looked pointedly at Andy. Dalton followed my gaze. I could practically see the Christmas lightbulb go off over his head.

“You!” Dalton howled at his dad. “You’re the one who doesn’t want a tree! What is wrong with you?!”

Andy tried to defend himself; first by explaining the coast and hassle of getting a tree, and then physically when Dalton launched himself at his father.

Dalton fought valiantly, but the battle ended with him rolled up in a blanket, pinned under Andy’s superior mass.

Despite being muffled by fabric, Dalton’s voice was triumphant as he crowed, “Mom and me both want a tree! That’s two against one! We’re getting a tree!”

We did indeed get a tree that year. But that was just the first step in Dalton’s master plan.

Andy’s birthday is the last week in November. The following year, when I asked Dalton what present we should get Andy, his response was immediate: “Outdoor lights for the big Christmas tree.” (Our first Christmas in our little house, Andy and I got a live Monterrey pine tree and planted it in the backyard after the holiday. It grew over thirty feet tall. Dalton loved climbing it.)

Andy’s face fell when he opened his gifts that year: three giant rolls of big, bright, outdoor holiday lights.

Dalton laughed so hard he fell on the floor. As he rolled over to his father’s feet, he gasped, “Don’t…worry…Dad…I’ll…help…you…hang…them!”

Andy looked at me and said, “Did you put him up to this?”

“C’mon. I’d have gotten white lights, not those garish things. Do you see the size of those bulbs?!”

But I didn’t care. Not really. Not when I finally had an ally for holiday decorating.

No matter how questionable his taste.

A man and a boy 15 feet up a large outdoor pine tree.
Andy and Dalton prepping the outdoor tree.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

18 thoughts on “Holiday Lights (#331)”

  1. Great story. I like how you’ve overcome, with the help of a small elf, any reluctance to decorating for Christmas. I’ve been to Hawaii for Christmas and I remember plenty of Christmas lights and stockings and inflatables. I loved the tropical vibe of the holidays there.

    1. I think Christmas has exploded everywhere from Hawaii to Asia over the last few decades. It wasn’t quite so crazy when Andy was younger, I think, but his immigrant family wasn’t about to spend money on something as frivolous as decorations. It was real estate or nothing!

  2. I grew up in the tropics and we *always* had at the very least a christmas tree – and in India & West Africa it was really hard finding a suitable alternative (we eventually settled on a *huge* fake one). Well done to Dalton your little Christmas elf. My granddaughter is doing likewise with her father (the neat freak) this year. I couldn’t be more proud! 😀

    1. Oh, good job, granddaughter! May she throw around lots of ribbon and wrapping. Get your Christmas cheer, girl! 🙂

      Since Andy’s family didn’t really have a lot of the typical western traditions, it does make sense that they wouldn’t spend money on it. Real estate is usually a better investment. There are a lot of things from my childhood I don’t want my kid to experience, but I do want him to enjoy a little holiday magic.

      Your childhood sounds fascinating. Did your parents try and manage traditional meals? Or did they give up on roasts and opt for barbecue like my Australian friends?

  3. I also grew up in tropical Hawaii, but it was pretty much Christmas as usual in our household, complete with trees and stockings and caroling. The weirdest thing was going down to Waikiki and watching Santa paddle to shore in an outrigger canoe. He looked normal sitting down, but once he stepped out of that thing onto the beach, we saw he was wearing shorts.

    No wonder I’m so in love with snow to this day…

  4. Awww I love this story!! I’m glad Baby D was able to win over Andy. My husband is just like Andy… he thinks decorating for Christmas is a huge waste since he never grew up with it. I think that’s SO SAD. I forced my husband to get a tree and I love looking at it every night. I’m such a Christmas junkie.

    I think Christmas is also more fun with kids around, they just love it so much and it’s a magical time for them!

    1. Oh, it is definitely more fun with kids…but also a lot more work!

      Good for you with your tree. I love looking at mine. Even though getting it and decorating it is a hassle. Especially since I do the decorating on my own, mostly.

  5. Is Andy going to put the outdoor lights this year?

    We couldn’t get Christmas trees in the Philippines when our kids were young, but we did have parols, the beautiful big Christmas lanterns that are so popular there. When I was growing up, my mom was extremely serious about decorating our trees using a different theme each year. I think this year I’ll wait until my 13-yr.-old grandson comes. He can help me put it up.

    1. The outdoor lights are under negotiation. I think Andy is waiting to see if we have a Christmas Eve party, at which point the lights would definitely go up!

      What were your mom’s themes? Did she do it by color?

      Parols? I hope to see a post on those!

  6. Your Christmas tree looks spectacular! I haven’t had a tree (or any decorations) since I moved to SA…Holiday decorations are way less big a deal here. It’s mostly a relief although sometimes I do have the slightest of urges to do a Christmas aloe tree or something like that.

    1. Yes, I feel that way when we are traveling or in Hawaii–sad that there are no decorations, but also relieved I don’t have to hassle with them.

      Thanks! This year I had to buy 4 strands of new lights.

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