The small town where I live is filled with tradition. With Easter comes a town wide barbecue. A slew of American flags hang high in the town square every July 4th and Memorial Day. On Halloween it’s Trunk or Treat. This keeps all the kids in one cleared area opposed to walking door to door through the snow.
For Thanksgiving the town people gather for coffee in the morning with the Mayor. There’s parades with the high school marching band while farmers drive their tractors up and down the road for a celebration of any kind. And Christmas, let’s just say it’s a bit overdone each year.
The weekend before Thanksgiving I was in my backyard collecting the cats to bring inside for the night. The sun had just dropped down into the horizon. The air was frigid and stung my cheeks as water built up in my eyes. I looked out into the darkness and caught a glimpse through the trees of a house down the road. It was already covered in Christmas lights.
By the end of Thanksgiving weekend the town is exploded with lights and I live in a winter wonderland. Some decorations are tasteful and create a scene right out of a postcard. Others appear as if they stuffed their yard with every garage sale and dollar store discount item they could find.
One by one the houses surrounding ours light up, making our property look darker than it already had. Even the elderly, widowed woman directly across the road from us places a single light up Santa Claus outside her door. Her plastic Santa creeps me out significantly more than the inflatable Santa outside the house on the corner.
I gaze outside the window from where I’m tucked away in the living room standing next to the roaring fireplace. I count the icicles on the strand of neon blue bulbs hanging from my other neighbor’s house. Snow is falling.
My husband does this thing where he feels obligated to do things because everyone else is. If someone mows their lawn he must mow our lawn. If someone plants new flowers in spring I soon find myself in the garden center at the farm and home store. If the neighbors clean up the fallen leaves of autumn that cover their yard then so do we.
It’s the standard norm here in this small town. Everyone does what everyone else is doing except for us because I’m not doing it.
We should decorate the outside of the house, my husband said.
No. We definitely should not, I responded.
We’re all cramped in the entryway zipping up our coveralls and pulling on our subzero boots. Hats — check. Gloves — check and we’re ready to go. The pickup has been running in the driveway and is ready to spare us from hypothermia. We’re off to drive up and down all three square miles of town to see the lights and decorations.
This has become our family tradition. Each year we pile into the truck with the kids and go on this holiday adventure. We’re still elated and in awe as if it’s the first time we’re seeing it. Cellphone cameras loaded at the ready and Christmas music playing on the AM/FM radio.
We pick a day and we wait with buzzing excitement for day to turn into night. Then we go out and enjoy the fruit of other people’s labor. I mean, that’s what they do it for, right? So cars will slow down and oh and ah as they pass, snapping a photo to upload to Instagram and tell all their friends about what they’ve seen and where.
It’s not that I’m lacking holiday spirit. That’s not it at all. T’is the season, but here’s the thing about small town traditions, once you start you can never stop. It’s written in stone. I’m not setting an irrational expectation that 40 years from now when I’m in my 80’s I’ll be climbing on the roof to string lights.
Nope, not me but by the time I’m in my 80’s we’ll need one of those wide, extended cab pickup trucks so my future grandchildren can ride shotgun and carry on our family tradition in the small town where we live.