A reminder that Christmas traditions are not always about “stuff”….
I asked my children a few weeks ago to tell me everything they liked about Christmas. I wanted to come up with a list of things to make sure we did, much like our list this summer; not missing opportunities in this brief season to do the things they really loved. The phrasing of my request ended up including things like “Opening presents!” from my very enthusiastic daughter, but it also covered all the things they wanted to do to celebrate. One of those things was the lights at Longview.
Longview Lake’s Christmas in the Park is something we’ve done ever since my husband discovered I had never been; I think, on our first drive there, he must have asked me at least three times, “You’ve really never been to see this?” (I think it was two whole years later before my parents went their first time.) It’s a drive-through-the-park light display put on by the county; and I have to admit it’s nearly impossible to describe unless you’ve been. There are dozens (hundreds?) of, essentially, pictures made out of lights; most of them “move” through the magic of timing (lights on/lights off). Reindeer “fly” over your car; trains full of Christmas toys “drive” down the road; sledders slide down hills and “crash” into snowmen…..it really is amazing to watch. (This year our son was finally old enough to realize and suddenly ask, “How do they put all this together?”)
Some of my favorite Christmas memories involve this drive with the kids. When we started taking them, it was easy; we lived less than fifteen minutes away and we could hop over any weeknight to drive through after dinner. The first year my daughter went she was too little to remember anything, so the following year my son kept asking her, “Don’t you remember that? Do you remember that?” and finally, as we drove out, he leaned over in his car seat and looked at his baby sister. “So….did you like it?” he asked eagerly.
Then, when the kids were four and two, we moved. That made the trip to the park much more of an Event, and due to my husband’s overtime season coinciding with the holidays, we were usually limited to weekend visits. That put an entirely different spin on the night. No more zipping over on a whim, maybe even twice a year. Now we drove the over-half-hour there as early as we could, to wait in line for who-knows-how-long. (My cozy thoughts of, “Ooo–I should pack cocoa!” quickly disappeared once I realized I’d be trapped in a car with two potential bathroom emergencies.) The first year that we sat in line–and I mean, really SAT in line–the kids should have been completely unbearable. Just turned five and three? Trapped in car seats? Yikes! Instead, we read the signs the light-up “elves” held, standing along the side of the looooong road (it’s about a mile to just get in to the place): “Welcome!” “Drive Safely!” And the elf with our family punch line: “Be Courteous!”
“What?” my five-year-old son asked.
“Be courteous,” I repeated.
He burst out laughing. “I thought you said ‘be curliest!‘” he howled, and for the rest of the interminable drive to the entrance, both the kids laughed hysterically: “Be curliest!” Each time it might quiet down in the backseat, one of them would shout it again, and they would both dissolve into fits of laughter.
Every year since, we look for the “curliest” elf. When we went this weekend, unfortunately, he wasn’t there; they’d replaced most of the elves’ signs with “Happy 25!” in honor of the display’s twenty-fifth birthday. There was brief disappointment…..but that elf will forever live on in memory. Besides, there’s always the chocolates handed out at the end of the drive to soothe any hurt.
At least one Christmas tradition that doesn’t involve “stuff.” I know there have to be more….I think I’ll be on the lookout for them this year.