Every Christmas since I was a boy, my dad grudgingly erected our nativity scene. A nine-piece life-size plywood depiction of the first Christmas. One shepherd, three wise men, Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a camel and one donkey. Sometimes also in attendance (weather permitting) were an assortment of snowmen all paying homage to the baby Jesus.
Shining down on this first Christmas stood our Sears easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower. Located between Merry and Christmas was a large screw-in 3,000-watt floodlight. Like a shining star, it illuminated our family’s version of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night.
My mom was so proud of her front yard. She figured we were the best Christians on the block.
“Our nativity scene is a brilliant, glowing testimony of what Christmas is all about,” she’d say.
That was the first year.
Then came January and my dad (who still believes his four boys, single handedly, caused global warming by constantly leaving the back door open) got the electric bill for December.
Christmas next year was going to take on, as we say, a different light. Now my dad loved and kept the true meaning of Christmas in his heart every year. What he didn’t love were large electric bills, or setting up of life-sized Biblical characters in winter weather. And now added to the dislike list was the so-called easy-to-assemble, three-piece die-cast metal “Merry Christmas” seasonal lawn tower, with its electric-sucking capabilities.
“The neighbors know we’re church-goers. We don’t need a manger scene to prove it!” he’d complain. But every year my mom made him put it up. What changed during that second year and every year after was the number in front of watts on the face of the bulb between Merry and Christmas. What once was a bright and shining star wishing a Merry Christmas to neighbors near and far now was a 40-watt bulb. A bulb so dim that it oozed an eerie shadow of brown across nine unrecognizable plywood figures accompanied by piles of dark snow wearing what might be hats. The brilliantly bright “Merry Christmas” easy-to-assemble three-piece die-cast metal seasonal lawn tower had now become a flight hazard known as “Erry Chri.”
In the daytime it was still the best nativity scene in the neighborhood, but days are short in winter. Come 4 o’clock, that ghastly glow would soon cover our yard and an “Erry Chri” was all that was squeezed out of the night in our front yard.
My mom tried candles one year to brighten the scene, but the donkey caught fire and several snowmen were sacrificed to save the house.
It got so bad that my friends started teasing me, “Have an Erry Chri! Oh and a Py New Ye!” they’d taunt.
This lack of illumination brought on a crime spree in which I also participated. Points were assigned to the shepherd, camel, what was left of the donkey, and each of the three wise men. These points were collected by snowball strikes. A hit on the shepherd was worth more than on the camel but if either Mary or baby Jesus were hit, it was an eternity in the burning fires of hell. A large price to pay for an errant snowball!
As years passed, our plywood Biblical characters could no longer weather the elements. On Father’s Day (some years sooner), my dad got around to taking down the nativity scene. “The neighbors need to know we’re church-goers, and a manger scene proves it!” he’d say every month until June. So because of my dad’s testimony, and his lack of getting around to it, “Erry Chri” towered alone over an empty yard for many years.
But “Erry Chri’s” dimly lit hope shone bright within my dad. When he shook your hand, looked you straight in the eye with his million-watt twinkle and wished you a “Merry Christmas,” you believed it would be.
My dad has now passed on and I have inherited the easy-to-assemble three-piece (which has become two because of rust and three coats of marine paint) die-cast metal, “Merry Christmas” by day and “Erry Chri” by night seasonal lawn tower. But because of my back and sandy soil conditions, the heavy old seasonal tower spends Christmas (and every other day) in the garage.
I asked my son if he could use old “Erry Chri” this Christmas. But he had just bought one of the new “Happy Holiday” inflatable snowmen with the LED lights. It’s an eight-foot-tall snowman on skis that sings “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
“Well,” I said, “it’s in the garage behind the bikes, skis and exercise equipment (that’s supposed to fit easily under the bed) if you need it.”
He won’t need it. His “Happy Holiday” inflatable singing snowman with energy-efficient lights is what he’ll use every year. ‘Happy Holidays’… PHFFT!
So my now one-piece die-cast metal “Erry Chri” seasonal lawn tower will stay in the garage until my dying day, for I’ll never sell it for scrap metal. Those eight bleary letters from my childhood mean so very much to me.
And for what it’s worth, I hope an “Erry Chri” shines brightly for you this season. And to all who would just like to wish a joyous festive season, have a “ppy Hol!”
— Bob Niles
Bob Niles, who answers to Robert, Bobby, Dad, Grandpa, Unit No.2 (his Dad could never remember all the children’s names) honey and super hero, is new to writing but not to storytelling. “I like to make people laugh and to think, with a secret desire make them dance and send me untraceable $100 bills in the mail,” says the happily married, retired father and grandpa from Richmond in British Columbia, Canada. He blogs at superiordribble.blogspot.com.