Lights by Joshua Swainston

“Lights.” My son raises his voice from the backseat every time we drive near a holiday decorated home. “Dad. Lights.”

“Okay,” I exaggerate the response to make it seem as if I’m doing him a favor by turning the vehicle around. We are equally excited, him and I. His mother, my wife, is at home enjoying a much needed kid-free break from the holiday season. I find the next street to turn around. It is Christmas, and for a few weeks surrounding, a nighttime drive is dotted with nuggets of brightly lit beacons illuminating the otherwise unimpressive neighborhoods like the star of the east.

He’s riding in his jump seat in the back. Holiday music is playing softly from the radio. Occasionally he’ll know the words and sing a few bars if he doesn’t think I can hear. But he doesn’t let the music distract from his chief mission. He’s ever on the lookout for the next bright star of a house.

We pass by a dozen dark lots until we find the one in question. I don’t stop the car but bring it to a crawl. Like all Xmas lit homes of this caliber, it reminds both of us of an elaborate gingerbread house. Icicle lights from the roofs overhang, candy colored lights around the windows and doors. Wire figures of deer and presents brighten the chain-linked yard. In lights is the phrase, “Santa Stop Here,” is spelled out on the roof. He could read it if he sounded it out, but he asks what it says and I tell him.

“You good?” I ask from the driver seat.

“Yea, let’s find another.”

We drift off into the night zig-zagging through residential streets.

“If you see anything, tell me.” There are a few locations that I’ve taken mental note of, plotting where I would take him on a night such as this. I don’t drive direct. It’s more fun when he can spot the targets first.

For a few blocks we see nothing but other cars and street lights. Bing Crosby is singing “White Christmas.”

“Do you know what we’re getting mom this year?” I ask.

He thinks a moment, “I don’t know.”

“It’s okay, I have a few ideas. Maybe we’ll go shopping tomorrow. You can pick something out with me. What do you want this year?” I ask knowing his mother has already bought his gifts.

He makes a few noises as if he’s thinking about the questions, but before he can answer, he’s distracted. “Lights. Lights. Over there.”

I already know what house he’s looking at. The same house does a big display every year. I turn the car so he can get a better look.

The light display is taken straight out of National Lampoons Christmas. Stings upon strings of lights, every square inch of exterior siding covered in brightly colored bulbs. I’m happy that this is not my neighbor’s house. A family of four is standing on the sidewalk gawking at the display. Another car is idling at the sight. Though the lights command most of the attention, it’s the yard that is strangely impressive. The yard holds every lit-up air filled Santa figure sold on the commercial market in the last ten years.

“There’s a Shrek Santa,” I say.

“That one looks like the Grinch,” He replies.

There is a Santa looking as if he’s climbing out of a blow up chimney. A Santa carrying a sack of presents. A Santa driving the sled. Rudolph, Snoopy, an elf and a snowman are all represented as well.

“How do you think they keep them all up?” I ask.

He says “I don’t know,” like it is all one word.

I don’t press the question. We have been out for half an hour and it’s nearing the little guy’s bed time. “You wanna head home and have some hot chocolate before bed?”

“Ice cream?” He’s at that age where everything is a negotiation. I’m concerned that soon he won’t want to do little things with me, like drive around looking for Christmas lights. For now I’m happy, he’s happy.

“We can ask your mother when we get home.”