I’ve spent the day emailing far-flung friends and talking to loved ones on the phone. Outside, the snow continues to fall—although it hasn’t yet turned out to be the snowpocalypse we’d been warned about. Maybe tomorrow.
Anyway, in honor of the holiday I thought I’d offer up this rerun of sorts. I wrote this little story last year for my friend Laurice, whose description of her neighbor as “the Christmas-light king of St. Louis Park” sparked my imagination. Merry Christmas!
The wind was howling through my attic as a fierce winter storm whipped ice against the windows. It was the day after Thanksgiving but it felt like January out there. At 4 p.m., it was already as dark as the inside of a wolf.
I grabbed an extra sweater and buttoned it tight against the chill. I shuffled over the to thermostat and turned it up another notch. Then, I shuffled into the kitchen and mindlessly heaped some jagged chunks of leftover turkey, a blob of stuffing, and a dribble of gelatinous gravy into a bowl.
I watched the carousel in the microwave slowly turn and listened to its soft hum. In two minutes I’d feel better. But as I comforted myself with this thought, disaster struck.
The lights faltered and dimmed, and the microwave’s hum became a whisper. Then, everything went dark. The microwave stopped and the furnace fell silent. I groped my way around the corner and into the living room—to look for a flashlight, so I could replace the blown fuse—but I stopped dead in my tracks.
Coming through the living room windows was an unearthly glow with the strange diffused brilliance you’d expect from a UFO. Would the aliens probe me first, or would they go straight to the implant? I stood frozen for a few moments, wide-eyed and stupefied. Then curiosity got the best of me.
I stumbled to the window in the half-darkness of my home. Through the swirling snow I could see that the strange amber glow appeared to be a couple of blocks away. “Fire! Fire!!” screamed my mind. But the light wasn’t flickering. Besides, I didn’t smell any smoke.
Then, a couple of silhouettes emerged against the backdrop of the light. The figures were puffy and indistinct, like Michelin Men, and their gait was clumsy. They were half walking, half lurching toward the light.
As if by instinct, I started feeling around for my boots, jacket, scarf, hat, mittens, and keys. Where the hell was my hat? And what had I done with the other mitten? It slowly dawned on me that I’m a slob. My keys were nowhere to be found. I walked out the door without them, and into the light.
I was so drawn by it that I didn’t notice my neighbors’ houses were dark, too. As if in a trance, I started walking. My feet felt like lead, cold and heavy inside my thick Sorrell boots. But some strange force was pulling them forward. Left. Right. Left.
The light grew progressively brighter as I covered almost two blocks. I started to hear a congregation of voices—at first, murmuring indistinctly; then, growing louder— and within another few steps, I was standing at the site of the disturbance. The small crowd was pointing and gesturing excitedly.
Before me lay an enormous glowing manger, which was surrounded by a multitude of fluorescent shepherds and wise men. Baby Jesus was lit from within, and the animals around him blazed with atomic luminescence. Mary, of course, looked radiant. And nearby grazed an entire herd of electrified plastic deer.
I then noticed the structure behind this day-glo nativity scene. Everything—roof, siding, doors, windows—was absolutely coated in Christmas lights, several layers deep. A few were blinking. Plastic icicles dangled from the eaves.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Hi, Bob!” said a gleeful voice. It was my neighbors from across the street. I looked at their heavy parkas and boots, their big hats, their wobbly gait, and immediately recognized them as the Michelin Men I’d seen lumbering toward the light. “Hell of a Christmas display, eh?” Oh yeah, I thought. You Canadians are easily impressed. I smiled feebly and mumbled something.
We gazed back at the lights, but I’d seen enough. It was cold. I was hungry and grumpy. I wanted my bunny slippers and my turkey, and a nip of brandy before bed. I turned to leave.
Just then, a concussive force hit me from behind: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir had sprung to life. Blaring from four gigantic speakers—which were also entirely covered in lights—the power of each “Ha” in that Hallelujah Chorus was such that I could feel the vibrations in my bones. “Hell of a choir, eh?” shouted one of my neighbors, through cupped hands. “What??!” I shouted back.
I don’t know whether it was the full-body Mormon massage, or the fact that the 38,000-watt display had rendered me legally blind, but I was overcome by a feeling of peace and contentment. I lost track of time as families and neighbors gathered and joked and laughed.
Eventually, the music stopped, and the crowd started to disperse. My neighbors and I walked home together. “Hell of a cold night, eh?” “Darned cold, you betcha,” I mumbled through my purple lips. “Awful dark, too.”
I’d completely forgotten about the power outage until I saw the NSP truck parked down the street. By the time I’d walked into my house, tucked the mittens into my pockets, taken off my jacket, removed my boots, and hung up my hat, the lights had come back on. I heard the microwave abruptly resume its hum in the kitchen, and the furnace kicked back in.
I found out later that, when our neighbor three blocks away had flipped the switch on his Christmas display, he’d overwhelmed the transformer and knocked out the electricity for ten blocks. As if by some miracle, only his block still had power.
It’s been 12 years since I first stood awestruck in that amber light. Gathering with my neighbors to be temporarily blinded has become an annual day-after-Thanksgiving tradition.
The only thing that’s changed is that now, instead of flipping a giant master switch, the Christmas-light King of St. Louis Park turns his lights on a few at a time.