Griswold Afloat

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It’s no secret. I am a nut for Christmas. My best friend isn’t, but I have a 10 year plan to convert her. And it has been 10 years, so I don’t have long. My Christmas hero is not the baby Jesus or the Christmas angels or a star. And it isn’t even Santy Claus. My Christmas hero is Clark Griswold, another fictional character…. one that I try to emulate at this time of year.

I know there may be one or two of you who don’t know to whom I refer. You’ve never watched National Lampoon’s ‘A Christmas Vacation’. I feel sorry for you. I love Clark’s panache in the Christmas decorating department, especially concerning exterior illumination. Forcing the Power Company of Chicago to go to emergency nuclear power when he turns on the outside lights makes me laugh every time I watch it. And that, of course, is around Christmastime. Never miss it. Even have it on BlueRay.

My years in Canada were the best for Christmas exterior illumination if I’m honest. Most houses there are built for it. And so, over ‘ome, I became the Clark Griswold of my street. My kids gave me that moniker. Young as they were, old dad let them watch this slightly adult film when mum was out. It became the Christmas movie of choice in a youth group I ran in a village in which I was a preacher (my old career). Every year we had a Christmas party and watched old Clark put lights all over the outside of the house. The ‘f’ word is used only once. When we came to it, we all covered our ears and lalalaed until it was said. Since leaving that profession years ago, I have used that word often. Therapeutic.

But, once again, I digress. The next town we lived in had the perfect house for a Griswold special, including two large (but not too large) trees on the front lawn. A porch with an iron railing provided space for pine boughs and lights, while bushes surrounding the porch were bedecked with coloured lights to create that postcard effect. Icicle lights dripped from the eaves and a large, lighted wreath hung over the garage. I could go on, but you get the idea. I Griswolded the place to the max.

Since moving to England, I have curtailed my Griswold activities. It’s still not British to be garrishly Griswoldy at Christmas in most cases. Many homes have no exterior lighting at all. Lots of dark, cold streets. A couple of homes on another street near our house really did Griswold proud, but they were the exception. Like Halloween, decorating outdoors for Christmas has been a slow evolution over here. My first Christmas in London 1o years ago was bleak. News programs mocked what they saw as the American overkill when it came to exterior decorating.

But the more they mocked and showed these Griswold showcases from America, the more young families who no longer had the same anti-American sentiments as their parents had began to follow the American way. More exterior lighting began appearing on homes owned by young families. The shops offered more choices….icicle lights were unknown when I first arrived. Large inflated Santas and Snowmen were popping up all over the place. The whole enterprise has grown steadily over the years I’ve lived here. Now news programs boast of the Griswoldian (my term) homes around the British Isles. Amazing.

Of course my best friend, bless her, was still of the old school and in fact was not a Christmas fan at all when I came over….not a Scrooge mind you, just against the over-commercialisation of the season. For that I can’t blame her. But making the place look festive has been a way of life for me since I was a kid. We never had it in our place much….my folks, being English and all, were old school. You know the stories, they only got an orange at Christmas and so Christmas was understated for ages. Only in later years did my parents put a few lights outside the house. But we’d drive around the neighbourhoods in which we lived and I was smitten. The colours, the Santas, Snowmen and the Nativity scenes made me wish we could be like that.

And so, when I grew up (sort of), my place was going to be festooned with festive fun stuff inside and out. I have even managed to break down my best friend….slightly. Before we left the house for the boat, there were a few more outside lights each year and little trees with lights outside our door. She likes tasteful. I like Griswold Garish. We compromise….until yesterday. But I’ll save that to the end.

The inside of the house we lived in gradually took on the look of a Christmas shop, but the ouside remained less enthralling. Moving to a boat meant we had to scale back on everything. We sold a few things, but, as I say to friends, the big winners from this move were the charity shops. Anyway, we had to give away most of our Christmas decorations, bringing only the absolute best trinkets, including a music box that plays Jingle Bells around a scene where houses are lighted. a horse and sleigh travel down a road and over a bridge with skaters that actually skate on a pond. It’s a big box.

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But I wasn’t satisfied. I was going to decorate the outside as well. I bought a large string of coloured lights and ran them along the top of the boat. Then came the small pine boughs with cones and berries. And while my best friend was away for a couple of days at a work retreat, I snuck over to the Home Depot nearby and bought more lights, putting them up before she got back. Sneaky eh? It has been my modus operandi my entire life. I was the first in the marina to illuminate the exterior. My neighbour was next. The harbour master loves it and wants a competition in the marina for the best decorated boat. Bring it on. Griswold is ready.

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