Opening Letters

Column: Have a Merry Big Christmas

Decorating for the holidays? Anything to spread joy for this local dad

BJ Hollars, illustrated by Sean Nemetz |

‘Twas two months before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, because they were all momentarily blinded by the wattage from our Christmas tree. 

Yes, you read that right: Our Christmas tree came two months early this year.

On Nov. 1, as the rest of Wisconsin fell back an hour for the end of daylight savings time, our family leapt forward a month ahead instead – at least as far as Christmas decorations were concerned. A few neighborhood jack-o’-lanterns still burned bright as we untangled Christmas lights. The children’s Halloween pails were swapped for stockings, eggnog replaced cider, pumpkin spice gave way to gingerbread, and Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was paused so that we might play, instead, his soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. A few houses away, a lawn overflowed with Styrofoam tombstones while ours showcased an inflatable Frosty. Halls were decked, trees were trimmed, the children and I engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether partridges actually lived in pear trees, and at last, the transition between seasons was complete.

All of which is to say: We made pretty good use of that extra hour.

I write these words at 5am on Nov. 2 – in the midst of a pandemic on the eve of an election. I’ve never known instability quite like this. Which is why my wife and I decided – for the sake of the children, of course – to become “those people.” Those overzealous worshippers bowing before the altar of Santa Claus, and claymation holiday specials, and Mariah Carey renditions of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” We leaned into the season, so fully, in fact, that we nearly plopped face-first into the figgy pudding. Which was fine by us. We were desperate for any opportunity we might manufacture to bring good tidings amid these COVID-ravaged times. Embracing the when-life-is-uncertain-eat-dessert-first school of thought, my family and I began eating dessert first, and second, and sometimes made it the whole meal. Why slurp a hot chocolate with one marshmallow, we reasoned, when the mug has room for two?

May we all find light wherever we can: in the glow of a menorah, or Kwanzaa candles, or the inflatable frosty taking up residence in our lawn.


Of course, there aren’t enough marshmallows in the world to cure what ails us. But that doesn’t mean we ought not try. As a parent, I feel particularly obligated to maintain my glass-half-full approach to life; not to be disingenuous about the many trials of this moment, but simply to counteract the crippling hopelessness which might infect my family if I don’t. Already, it’s creeping in. Nights before the sugar plum fairies dance in their heads, my children pray aloud for the virus to go away. When, in my childhood, had I felt obligated to make such a request?

If you’d asked me a year ago if my daughter would spend the morning of her 2020 picture day asking me which of her masks best matched her dress, I’d have had no earthly idea what you were talking about. 

Or if you’d said that my son would spend his days building a world on a computer screen because it’s “safer there,” I’d have wondered what was so wrong with the world in which we lived?

We all have our coping mechanisms, and perhaps mine is the oddest of all: stringing so many lights ’round the Christmas tree that its brightness rivals the sun. Yet we all do what we can because doing something feels better than the alternative. And because doom and gloom are no match for “holiday spirit” – or so the TV specials tell us.

This year, my one and only Christmas wish is that by the time you read these words, the world seems a whole lot brighter. May we all find light wherever we can: in the glow of a menorah, or Kwanzaa candles, or the inflatable Frosty taking up residence in our lawn. This year, let’s not settle for a merry little Christmas, let’s make it a big one. A decade from now, when we all look back on this moment, may we remember the warmth instead of the chill, the light instead of the darkness. And most of all, what we did – rather than what we didn’t do – to make the magic however we might.