Father Christmas or In Defense of Dads Yelling at the Christmas Lights

One of the things I love most about the holiday season is tradition (Tradition!  Tra-di-tion!  Fiddler on the Roof, anyone?  ANYONE?!).  Every family has their own, unique traditions without which it would not feel like Christmas to them (remember the episode of Friends where everybody asks Monica to make a different kind of potato for Thanksgiving because that’s how THEIR mom made it?).

Good grief that's good jazz, Charlie Brown!

Good grief that’s good jazz, Charlie Brown!

My family always has summer sausage, cheese, crackers, and apple slices on Christmas Eve while we watch Home Alone or Muppet Christmas Carol.  The first Christmas album we listen to on Thanksgiving night is Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.  I have my traditions, you have yours.  Traditions turn into history, and I love hearing about all the different things families have been doing at Christmastime for fifty or even a hundred years.  It’s neat, right?  History, kids: get into it!     But there is ONE tradition, every family collectively shares: The Annual Yelling of the Dads at Christmas Lights.   I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did, your dad also yells at your Christmas lights too.  He could be the sweetest, most genteel man in all the land, but when it comes to putting those babies on the Christmas tree or out on the roof, your dad goes from zero to Samuel L. Jackson in about 3.5 seconds:



People laugh at Clark Griswold’s meltdown at his outdoor Christmas lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but that’s because we’ve all been there.  We’ve all seen our fathers curse and rage at the heavens over their defunct holiday light displays.

The truth is EVERY dad is a Clark Griswold.

"I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas."

“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas.”

Every dad wants their lights to look perfect and work and be festive and when it just doesn’t happen, something inside them snaps.  There is yelling of expletives (in my father’s case, they are hybrids of nonsense and actual curse words like “PISS WISS.”) and slamming of tools and heavy sighing as he puts on his spectacles for the umpteenth time to inspect each and every bulb, which for some inexplicable reason, don’t work THIS year even though your dad purchased them brand new last year.  Then there is the inevitable leaving-in-a-huff to go get MORE new lights from the hardware store to replace the old “new ones” from last year.  It’s a never-ending cycle of misery; a Groundhog Day of tree lights working then not working then working again.

"I told you. I wake up every day...and the lights never work, and there's nothing I can do about it!"

“I told you. I wake up every day…and the lights never work, and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

My Dad has a fairly long fuse (no pun intended) when it comes to his temper, but like clockwork on Thanksgiving night, we’ll hear a din from the dining room slowly growing louder and louder as he plugs in each successive strand of lights.  My mother, brother, and I try to conceal our laughter as we pull out the rest of the Christmas decorations and assemble our artificial trees, but we can’t help it.  My Dad is a good sport about the whole thing; he knows his frustrations have actually become a part of our traditions, so whenever he catches himself, he’ll try to over-exaggerate his yelling simply to make us laugh harder.

My dad battling with our tree lights

My dad battling with our tree lights.  “PISS WISS.”

I’m convinced the annual battle of the Christmas lights is actually the way in which men assert themselves.  I think this behavior is hardwired into their consciousness when they’re born, which is why all men act this way during the holidays.  If they can prove themselves masters of their holiday light displays, they are Christmas heroes; Fathers Christmas.  Or maybe this is a learned behavior: my father learned from his father who learned from HIS father and so on and so forth.  But that brings up a whole chicken-and-the-egg scenario to which we will probably never discover the answer.

The real question is: would those lights still look as stunning if your father HADN’T had a Hunger Games throw-down with them?  No.  That struggle is part of the process, part of the magic of Christmastime.  Seeing is believing in this case.  the hunger games

Your dad is the Katniss Everdeen of holiday lighting, and he will emerge the victor.  Girl on Fire?  Pfft.  Try DAD ON FIRE!

I mean this figuratively, of course.  I hope no one’s dad has ever caught on fire as a result of Christmas lighting.

Anyway, as I stare at the instagram photo of my Christmas tree on the background of my phone (since I’m currently in New York and therefore unable to look at my Christmas trees in Missouri), I see all my Dad’s majestic, magical, yuletide handiwork, and I recognize the hard work and hoarse voice that went into producing it.  And I know when all of you look at your respective trees, you feel the same.

So thanks, Dad.

Thanks to ALL dads for making our days merry and bright.

Clark W. Griswold would be proud.

The finished Potter Family Christmas tree.  See, Dad?  Looks perfect!

The finished Potter Family Christmas tree. See, Dad? Looks perfect!



  1. This is great. I’ve actually got a story debuting soon about this very topic, but it’s the mom who goes mad. No matter the gender, the lights win every time.


    1. Yeah, it really doesn’t matter who puts the lights on the tree/house. Something about the chore just turns the person into their inner-Hulk, and it is HILARIOUS! haha. Thanks for reading!


  2. This is wonderful tribute Emmy and I am quite honored. You are right it is something that is handed down from father to father. “Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination” says Clark Griswold. The reason we struggle and wrestle with the lights is simple so that we can have, “…a fun old-fashion family Christmas…this is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday… We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas…” – Clark Griswold. Sorry enough said I gotta go run out for another strand of lights!


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