My dad grew up in Hamadan, Iran, one of the oldest cities in the world. Situated in the shadow of the Zagros Mountains, Hamadan is also one of the coldest places in Iran. My dad remembers winters so frigid, the dead could not be buried.
Moving to Chicago wasn't a complete weather shock for my dad, though he admits questioning the whole idea of a tornado - it's just wind! - until the day he saw a Chevy Impala lifted off the pavement in front of his in-law's house. But the cold Midwestern winters? Nah. Look at him in the photo above, wearing just a sweater like a Persian Mr. Rogers, while the rest of us are bundled with the customary crocheted nooses and fat coats. My dad loved playing outside with us, no matter the temperature.
Which is why we couldn't understand why the heck he wouldn't put up Christmas lights in our yard. Everyone had them. We drove around looking at other people's lights but we couldn't have even a glowing Frosty?
I think Christmas just wasn't his thing.
Never mind that he was raised Muslim. He didn't object one bit to a celebration of Jesus's birth. It wasn't the religious aspect of the holiday that bothered him. It was more the full-scale cultural hullabaloo that overwhelmed him. The baking, decorating, caroling, watching of pageants at school and church, the television specials, the holiday parties, the Christmas cards, the egg nog for Pete's sake. It was utterly and completely foreign to him.
As a result, every December saw my dad getting more contrary as the month wore on. "Spunky" was the word my mother used. Bless her adaptable heart, she didn't seem to mind his attitude, gamely doing all the decorating, shopping, wrapping. He did admire her Mrs. Claus abilities, clapping her on the back on Christmas morning as she nodded off into her coffee, congratulating her for the way each child got exactly the same number of packages containing just the right balance of practical items and special surprises.
He shared a pediatric practice with two partners who were Jewish. Dr. Wineberg and Dr. Goldman kindly took call duties on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so my dad could be with his family. Little did they know that he would have preferred working, tending to sick babies, rather than sitting through a church service that invariably concluded with us kids burning each other with dripping hot wax during the sixth refrain of "Silent Night".
The year that we moved to a new neighborhood, everything changed. My dad loved our new house and he joined us in decorating it top to bottom. We swagged the bannisters with thick silver garland. We hung fancy wreaths of fake white poinsettias on the front door.
And for the first time, my dad went to the hardware store and purchased strings of big colorful bulbs. We were ecstatic.
Magically, it started to snow as my dad festooned the giant juniper bushes. He was a newbie at it, but we four kids cheered him on, offering encouragement, and making generous comments about the symmetry of his serpentine pattern. When he finished, we all stood back and watched as he plugged in the cord. Our house went from "Dorothy in Kansas" to the full technicolor of Oz.
My mother came outside and exclaimed at the effect. Maybe she was just appreciative of a holiday task completed without her. Maybe she loved our beaming faces. Or maybe the lights really were that beautiful.
Then she shooed us into the house for a cozy dinner of chili which we wolfed down in record speed. We needed to get back outside and make snow angels under the glow of that heavenly light.
Not twenty minutes later, we kids shoved on our coats and rushed out the front door. And the lights? Gone. Vanished. Burgled!
My sisters bawled. My brother hissed at them to shut-up because maybe the robbers were still around, hiding. I ran inside and hollered for my parents. They couldn't believe it. Who would carry out such a heist at 6:30 on a Tuesday night?
Across the street lived a family with five sons: Jimmy, Petey, Timmy, Tommy, and Andy. Next door lived a family with four sons: Jeffrey, Jimmy, Joey, and Louie. Let's just say there was no shortage of suspects. But really, would our new neighbors commit such a dastardly deed?
We examined the footprints in the snow. We tried to follow the tire tracks in the road. My siblings and I went full-on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to no avail.
We never learned who stole our Christmas lights. Those juniper bushes were never again adorned. It really is tragic, which is what makes it so funny. In one fell swoop, some Christmas light burglar confirmed my dad's misgivings about all the Christmas fuss. And every year since, he is spunky, and nothing but.
If you're still feeling the Christmas cheer, here are some new ways to toast the holidays. If the story really depressed you, here are some new ways to chase away the Christmas blues. Click on the photos for shopping information.
Photos by Renn Kuhnen
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