The Christmas lights were red and gold, blue and green, red and gold, blue and green. Along the rain gutters, below the roofline. Glass – big and tapered – the size of okra. They were rolled up and thrown in boxes in the garage with the broken door and bicycles hanging from the rafters. There were often broken lights, ones that left colored shards in the bottoms of boxes. They never cut us.
Dad put the lights up. My mom does that now because Dad isn’t there. I help her sometimes, sometimes I don’t. The responsibility to help weighs me down more than the execution these days. The lights came on at night, which descended on the neighborhood earlier because of day light savings. The lit bulbs painted a translucent wash on the brick patio, like the thought of melted crayons. They made me feel warm – even with the biting cold December hair, even in California.
Then it changed. The neighbors started using white lights dangling like icicles off of white wire, not green. It was a winter wonderland in the San Fernando Valley, where the closest we came to snow was the gray frost that lay on the grass for the hour following dawn, until the sun pressed it back down in the earth until it would return again at night.
We followed suit. We followed with the icicles. They were ugly when seen during the day; homes looked like they had been wrapped in the electrical cords that get lost in drawers, the ones you don’t know what appliance it goes with anymore but you keep anyway.
The color abandoned the patio and the rolls of passé lighting got thrown away or donated to Goodwill, where I’m sure all the bulbs broke in transit, leaving a sad little rope with no purpose. Moving on. We move on. The tips of the icicles would spy on us through our wood windows; they watched us make dinner and wrap presents and although I liked them I didn’t find them as friendly as our previous lights. I was outgrowing Christmas.
A sea change happened again – still involving white bulbs but these were less intrusive and dare I say more seasonally chic. Singular, tiny bulbs dotted rooftops like lonely fragments of snowflakes. It was less grotesque than the fake icicles but generally unpersonable and devoid of personality. Our Christmas home looked like the outdoor patio of an Italian Restaurant, not a place where Santa dumped presents under our tree and ate chocolate chip cookies next to our fireplace.
I went away to college and walked under the same twinkly white lights wrapped through trees and around poles. Ribbons were put wherever they could find a home. There was snow, real snow. It bit my nose and seeped through my shoes. In December it was charming. By February it became loathsome. The lights were gone but the snow had stayed.
I came back to California for the holiday and the roof was awash with color again but the color was off. It bled through the plastic bulbs shaped like the old glass kind and came out weakened and pastel. I told my mom it wasn’t Easter and eventually she found the old lights again – the big ones with their beautiful colors that reminded me of a real Christmas, of when the air felt cold on a face much smaller than my face today, of when I still believed.