By Kathy Powell
In my suburban Atlanta neighborhood, there are three main ways people decorate outside for the holidays. The first is simple and welcoming, with wreaths on doors and on windows. Maybe a big red bow or two. The second is the largest category with a few strands of lights on the house, some on the bushes and maybe one or two big inflatables — a solid and beautiful effort. And then finally, there are the outliers. These are the houses with much more pizazz than their rectangle lawns can contain.
My family is an outlier.
To be clear, we are certainly on the low-end of the outliers. We do not have thousands of dollars worth of inflatables or rows and rows of perfectly straight lights that clearly required someone to defy gravity to install. Our lights are not timed to music. Our house will never be featured on “Good Morning America.”
What we do have has been lovingly curated, started from scratch when my husband, our then one-year-old son and I moved into this house 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve added one or two new things each year. This is my husband’s joy and initiative. And now, together with our three kids, the four of them set out to add whatever brings more sparkle that year, is easily available at the local hardware superstore and generally costs less than $50.
It started with a wire-frame statue of Snoopy wearing a Santa hat. So, eventually Woodstock and then a skating Charlie Brown joined the family. Then there’s a trio of statues featuring Santa, a nutcracker and a snowman. There are a few wooden reindeer and some candy canes. There’s the snow owl that sits on the front bush that we keep out year-round now because, well, we have a thing with owls. When an animal rhymes with your last name, you could just ignore it, or you could lean in. If you ever come visit the Powell Owls, remind me to show you our multiple owl-themed bathrooms. I mean, “hoo” doesn’t love an owl?
Rounded out with a strand of icicle lights, some net lights in the bushes, some strands of red and white lights around the columns, red and green light bulbs to light the porch, a few strands of white lights, and of course, a couple of projector lights, our lawn is a glorious mismatch of fun and light and color. I love it so much!
What I love most is that there is no grand plan, but there’s always an outline. I know that every year, usually on the day after Thanksgiving, the cars are moved and the decorations are coming out, strewn across the garage floor. There is no goal for it to be anything but awesome for the sake of awesome. The display is rearranged every year with renewed fervor. It is never the exact same. Just like the Advent season has the same markers and liturgies every year, each year gives the opportunity to tweak, to grow and to shine more light.
Each one of our kids, currently ages 7, 9 and 11, are assigned pieces or an area to decorate as they see fit. This year, my son put together the wooden reindeer and placed them wherever we felt they should be. They look like they’re frolicking by the mailbox this year — just close enough to the curb to make passing cars slow down in case they’re real and fixin’ to run out onto the street. My 7-year-old daughter carried the snowman inside the house by herself, up the stairs, and nearly out a second story window before I reminded her that even though she gets to choose the location without judgment, she would have to wait for an adult before she heaved it onto the overhanging roof. Close behind her was my other daughter wielding the nutcracker to take its place alongside the snowman. Together with the Santa that they had to take another trip to bring in, the three statues would overlook our chaotic symphony of lovingly chosen and very deliberately placed decorations.
Just as our yard display will never be the perfectly even white lights, my observance of Advent will also always be an outlier. I love that each year allows me to pull from established traditions and create new ways to journey to the birth of Christ. I cherish the reminder in shiny lights that we all bring our own light and style to the season. The twinkling lights, flashing candy canes and shiny icicles provide a consistent reminder of the light of the season and the light of Christ within us all. I cherish the invitation to marvel at how this year’s lights shine uniquely and boldly and to notice and celebrate the newest additions, the changes in locations, the added sparkle. As we walk to the arrival of Emmanuel, I hope the light of Christ can enter your heart through both long-honored traditions and those that catch your heart anew this Advent, like an ice skating Charlie Brown or a random cacophony of mismatched lights.
Kathy Powell, passionate nonprofit and faith-based communications professional, lives in Roswell, Georgia, with her husband Kent and three children. Serving as Chief Dreaming Officer of Ignatian Ministries, she is committed to their mission to accompany those in the deep waters of faith through Ignatian tools, resources and community. Kathy fills her free time by cooking without recipes, sharing the gifts of Ignatian Spirituality and walking with families who have lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss.