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J Longo for Fatherly

How to Start a Neighborhood Holiday Tradition

When the Holidays start, we gather with friends to light a leg lamp in our window. It brings us closer together with a little whimsy and a lot of cheer.

I live on a leafy Ohio street in the suburbs of Cleveland. I share my neighborhood with hundreds of other families. Our homes aren’t separated by fences. We clean up the roads and common areas together every spring. We worked together to build a playground for our kids. We share a meadow and a lake with a swimming area. But none of those realities of life in our neighborhood are what bring us together as a community. Not really. In fact, it took something more to truly feel close to my neighbors. It took electric sex, glowing in the window.

When I moved into the neighborhood with my wife and two kids five years ago, we felt it was our responsibility to find our place in the fabric of the community. The neighborhood had a comic number of opportunities for fellowship. There was the garden club for like-minded green thumbs. There was the beer club for like-minded hop heads. And there were not one but three “gourmet clubs” who met for monthly dinner parties at each participating family’s house.

My wife and I spent time joining in these gatherings, but never really felt like these groups and events were truly bringing us closer as neighbors. Did we know the individuals better? Absolutely. The clubs and gourmet events were a fine way to get to know people. But they didn’t show the colors of the neighborhood as a whole. What was the character of the collective neighborhood, and what part do we play?

Then the first Christmas rolled around.

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Northeast Ohio, and Cleveland in particular, has a deep connection to the ubiquitous holiday classic, A Christmas Story. If you’ve drawn breath anywhere near basic cable in the last decade or two, you know it. It the one with the kid who wants a Red Ryder BB gun despite even Santa’s exclamation that “you’ll shoot your eye out kid.” The film was made in Cleveland (the house where the film takes place is now a museum) and locals take pride in knowing it by heart.

Before moving to the area, my wife, a native Ohioan, bought me a replica of the leg lamp which acts as a central plot in the movie. It is delightful — a glowing, fishnet and high-heel clad leg topped with a fringed, satin shade. It feels, very much, like the major award the film’s father is delighted to pull from a box marked “Fragile” (“Frah-gee-lay. It must be Italian!”)

There was one place the lamp belonged to in our new Ohio home: the front window for all to see, which is exactly where I put it, the day before Thanksgiving. My neighbors were ecstatic. They pointed and smiled as they walked by. One drove into my driveway so he could take a picture. When I told people in the neighborhood which house was mine, they’d reference the leg lamp.  

That’s when it struck me: If everyone loved the leg lamp as much as I did, we should celebrate its annual lighting with a party. And the next year, a tradition was born.

The leg lamp lighting party occurs in my driveway, rain, snow or shine the day before Thanksgiving. The entire neighborhood, and any of their guests or family is invited. The celebration is meant to offer a low-key and stupidly gentle entry into the holiday season. It’s a reprieve from the Thanksgiving cooking chaos and a chance to get out of the house and distract your relatives for an hour or two.

When the time comes, we countdown to the lighting of the leg lamp and repeat, in unison, a line from the film: “Oh, you should see what it looks like from out here!” Then we sing a song called “Oh Leggy Lamp” to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” Finally, we stand around a fire, imbibe, and enjoy each other’s company until our turkeys or our beds call us home.

It’s a no-frills event, a holiday tradition that requires very little in the way of preparation. But celebrating the saucy glow of a leg-shaped lamp also helps give our community a unique character. In the end, this simple holiday tradition helps make a neighborhood a home