This past weekend we went out to my parents' house for dinner. They have the yard and house decorated for Christmas. I think I always took it for granted when I was little that there would be sparkly holiday cheer all around me, but aside from the occasional curses coming from the attic when Dad was wrangling down all the decorations, I didn't know how much work it took to actually decorate.
Until I had kids.
Now I know. That's why this year, we have a tree, and that's it. I took down the Christmas houses, but I can't find a surface to put them on, and one of the bulbs is burned out anyway. Santa will still be able to find our house because our kids have been sooo good this year, so I'm not worried. ;D
Walking through the yard on Saturday night, arbors of glowing grapes overhead, brilliant blue LEDs, Christmas trees, light-up penguins throwing tiny nylon snowballs, I felt as enchanted as a little kid. C was in awe -- he took me on a walk through the yard and told me what to look at, showing me everything Grandma had shown him. His special favorite was the pair of lit penguins, who were covered with a layer of icy raindrops.
It almost made me cry, for the same reason that I choke up when I see a particularly good performance, or other work of art. I have been described as being very "pragmatic" by people who know me, and my biggest struggle in grad school was waiting to find out the practical application of all of the theory we were learning. When there wasn't one, I just couldn't get myself to care about it. But things like art, and songs, and Christmas lights, are the exact opposite. Practically speaking, there isn't really a "point" -- they take time, cost money, and don't result in anything particularly tangible. But people do them anyway. Seeing something like Mom and Dad's yard lit up for Christmas makes me love humanity, for our silly, pointless love of beauty. Is there any other species that would spend so much time and money just to make someone else smile? To try to connect, even for a minute, to that unexpressible Thing that we try to convey in art -- the feeling of being human that combines the elation of being alive with the sorrow at the fact that we won't always be; the way one moment can seem to last a hundred years, yet a decade can fly by like a commercial break. The way we love, the way we hurt, the devastating love a parent has for their child; the fact that we exist at all, that we can and do keep stringing up colored lights all around the giant flooded yard, breaking the dark of the night.