illustration by Giselle Potter

Let the Holiday Lights Show Go On

Dallas becomes a place of magic thanks to those twinkling strings.

When we moved from New York to Highland Park, a friend issued a warning: “Your mortgage is the least of it,” he said. “Just wait until you get your lighting bill.” Huh? “Christmas lights,” he explained. “People in Highland Park put on a big show. Mandatory.”

In New York, our holiday decorations were sincere but minimal (essentially a wreath and a strand of colored lights). So I was a little concerned about my friend’s admonition. I knew by reputation that Texans were showy, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened in my neighborhood as Thanksgiving approached. Trucks were parked on every block, with workers hauling wire reindeer, atomic sleighs, and Santas suitable for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. On Beverly Drive, there was a mammoth fabrication of a Norman Rockwell painting. And then there was the messaging—signs with “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season” and my favorite: “LEON.” Just as I started to calculate how much money was being spent on decorations and how many starving people in India could be fed with those dollars (such a Yankee thing to do), night fell. And something wonderful started to happen. Slow-moving cars began to wend their ways up and down the neighborhood streets. Horse-drawn carriages filled with families under blankets began their seasonal clip-clop. Children craned and pointed: “Look at that one! That’s my favorite. No, that’s my favorite.” Overnight, our gracious but self-important neighborhood of multimillion-dollar houses became a place of holiday magic, glowing with generosity against the blue-black sky.

Fifteen years have passed since my first Christmas here. I have learned that we Texans (yes, I realize I am taking liberties by using “we”) are true to the stereotype: we like to live large and have fun. Texans also have a childlike quality. We cut the crust on our sandwiches. We order dessert. We buy a lot of balloons. Of course, we overdecorate at Christmas. Hello! It’s Christmas!

Though it’s over-the-top and occasionally garish, I view the holiday lights in our neighborhood—and neighborhoods all over Dallas-Fort Worth—especially poignant this year. We make merry and decorate for our families but also for the hundreds of strangers who might pass by. This year, when fortunes have been made and lost, dreams have been fulfilled and abandoned, and uncertainty is our new way of life, pulling out the decorations and lighting our little plots in the universe strikes me as particularly affecting. There is something silly and profound in the human heart that insists the show must go on. Something very Texan. Something truly wonderful.