This blog post is an oldie but goodie with a few edits. Enjoy!
My dad grew up in Hamadan, Iran, one of the oldest cities in the world. Situated in the shadow of the Zagros Mountains, Hamadan has one of the harshest climates in Iran. My dad remembers winters so frigid, the dead could not be buried.
So when he moved to Chicago for medical school, the weather didn’t completely shock him, though he did question the fear 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 cardigan 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. As a family, we would drive around oohing and aahing at other people's lights but we couldn't have even a single glowing Frosty?
I think Christmas just wasn't his thing.
The issue was not that he had been raised Muslim. He didn't object one bit to a celebration of Jesus's birth. He appreciated the overlapping of religious customs of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and he liked to remind us that certain elements of Christmas are borrowed from the ancient Persian worship of Mithra, the God of Sun. Mithra, who is my namesake, apparently gave birth to light on December 24, making possible the gradual lengthening of days.
No, I think what overwhelmed my dad was the full-scale cultural hullabaloo that accompanied Christmas. The baking, decorating, caroling, the pageants at school and church, the television specials, the Christmas cards, the egg nog, the wrapping paper sold in thick bolts like fabric 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 tending to sick babies over attending a candlelit church service that invariably concluded with us kids flicking hot wax at each other 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 fat 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 brown 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.