Holiday Fantasy in Lights

There's an annual Christmas light show in Madison's Olin Park. It's put on by local electrical contractors and the electrical workers' union, who clearly know how to wire up electrical stuff. Every year, they string up what looks like a million lights in a couple of dozen displays, and thousands of people drive through it all, along a small, paved trail that winds through Olin Park.

It takes fifteen minutes or so to cruise through the lights, and there's sappy Christmas music interrupted by ads for the display's corporate sponsors, and ads for the Christmas light show while you're driving through the Christmas light show. At the end everyone gets a candy cane, and of course, they ask for donations. We usually gave five or ten bucks.

The lights and music are as corny and schmaltzy as it sounds, and it's called Holiday Fantasy in Lights, a rather lackluster name, Steph and I agreed. But it's fun! We always laughed and talked, as the line of cars rolled slowly past all the lights. It's a blast, oohing and awing at what seem to be the same displays every year — electric snowmen and Christmas trees, electric Santas and sleighs and reindeer, giant Badgers and Packers football helmets, the red white and blue Statue of Liberty, and on and on.

There are also weird things we never quite understood, like the flashing lights arranged to look like serpents and dragons, slot machines and tractors, the electric lightning, Sputnik in space, or the giant red puppy waving its giant red tail. And amidst all the elaborate, colorful lights, the brightest lights are always the taillights of the car in front of you, as you roll along at two miles an hour.

Stephanie herself would light up as we approached the electric lights arranged to look like Santa gone golfing, with Mr Kringle swinging a club, and carefully-timed lights representing a ball bouncing along in an electric hole-in-one. "It's so silly and absurd," she said, and laughed, every time we went, so it seems fair to say that Golfing Santa was her favorite part of the light show. My favorite part, though far less intricate or artistic, was driving under the flat white rows of lights strung across the roadway itself, which in the black of night gives the weird illusion that you're in an electric tunnel.

According to their website, the lights are switched on beginning tonight, November 8, and they'll be lit every night until January 4. If you're within easy driving distance, I'd recommend it. Will I drive through the lights? Nah, can't see myself doing that — seeing the Christmas light show without Stephanie would be too dang sad.

But I sure smiled this morning, returning from an errand on the south side of town, seeing the electricians are already at work setting up this winter's light show. You can only drive through the lights after dark, and it was broad daylight as I drove past, but many of the lights were on, and a dozen guys and gals in hard hats were connecting wires and nailing lumber and doing whatever else needs to be prepped.

I'm a cynical, generally grumpy old man, but I offer a sincere tip o' the hat to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. The Christmas lights make people happy every winter, and definitely made Stephanie happy. It's making me happy to remember us rolling through the dark, enjoying the music and lights, holding hands and laughing, and then savoring a candy cane all the way home.