As my husband and I ready ourselves for the holiday, I always feel a bit homesick on the off-years we are here instead of in The States. My family is one of gaudy decorations and raw, unadulterated American consumerism; we gorge lasagna and laugh and savagely unwrap until we are swimming in piles of ripped paper and elaborate bows. Here, things are quieter, a fancy Christmas dinner, a walk, some cathartic sighs, a glass of wine before bed.
Christmas lights in the Netherlands also seem more subdued and classier than their American counterparts; outdoor lights are less frequent and tastefully executed in white.
When I was young my dad would execute the opposite of taste. Once when we went on a holiday with my mom, we came back to what my dad imagined an amazing surprise: he had painted part of the bathroom in glossy primary colors – blue, yellow and red. With mirrors already elaborately hung and the project not finished, it reminded me of a clown house under construction. My mother was not pleased.
But he approached Christmas lights with a similar design aesthetic and level of enthusiasm. He’d go outside every year with a huge tangled ball of lights, ready to make miracles happen. He’d be out there, banging and swearing and working hard, trying to make our small single level home sparkle in the sky. This would go on for about an hour, until we’d hear a loud “f**ck” yelled into the wind, and know that the project had likely come to a close. It makes me smile now, his earnest efforts for holiday joy. Among our nice neighborhood of white picket fences, we were the family with a half strung string of lights dangling from the roof, unattended and looking lost, until my dad managed to get back up there and take it down a few months later.
My husband and I went for a walk yesterday, in the Dutch equivalent of my American suburban town – an affluent green municipality a 40 minute (bike) ride outside the city. When I walk here, it always feels comfortable and familiar, with fancy big homes and beautiful Christmas trees inside warmly lit living rooms. Walking further outside our normal residential radius, we discovered a new neighborhood, one full of houses with deflated santas and spare lawnmower parts in the front yard. Their bushes weren’t trimmed and the grass wasn’t cut. To me, these houses looked friendly, welcoming, chock-full of as much clutter and crap that could fit onto one small lawn. I looked at my husband and smiled, “feels like home.”