The memories are vivid. December weather in Southern California rarely fell below freezing temperatures, but there was still a crisp nip in the air as we piled into my dad’s car to make our yearly pilgrimage to the “Christmas House.” The tradition began when I was around eleven or twelve, around the time my dad and stepmom bought their house in Simi Valley, California. We were starting a new family together, building new relationships that would be long-lasting and wonderful, and along with this came new family traditions. One of these traditions was our annual visit to the “Christmas House.”
The Simi Valley “Christmas House”
The house was in a neighborhood much like many others in Simi Valley, and during any other time of the year you might drive past the house without giving it a second glance. During the holiday season, though, the house transformed from ordinary to extraordinary. It glowed with thousands upon thousands of lights. Nearly every inch of the front yard was decorated with moving and singing elves, reindeer, penguin, and dozens of other Christmas creatures. The house became the embodiment of Christmas spirit.
Visiting the house wasn’t just a quick, “been there, done that,” item to mark off our holiday to-do list. No. Visiting the house was an experience. As kids, we looked forward to it each year. We’d drive through darkened streets, perhaps past several houses strung with lights and a few lawn ornaments. And then, like a blazing emblem of jolly holiday spirit, the Christmas House would appear, glowing even from a block or two away.
Sometimes we’d park the car blocks away to walk to the house, taking our time to admire each and every detail of the intricate display. Sometimes we’d wait in the long line of cars to drive ever-so-slowly past the house, wanting to draw out the moment and make it last as we basked in the glow of a million twinkling lights and cheery Christmas music. Here’s the video from YouTube of what the house looked like:
The Story Behind the “Christmas House”
We didn’t know the family who owned the house, but every year, they welcomed strangers with their decorations, spreading Christmas cheer all around our community and town. I only learned recently that the “Christmas House” of my childhood memories was owned by a family known as the Beckers.
The late Mrs. Phyllis Becker loved Christmas and wanted to share her love for the holiday by creating Christmas decorations for their house. Mr. John Becker was an engineer who gave life to his wife’s decorations by motorizing them. Together, they built and added to the Christmas House annually for forty-nine years. You can read more of the Beckers’s story and about the fate of the beloved Christmas house in this article from 2014.
To this day, our visits to the “Christmas House” remain one of my favorite memories from my childhood Christmases in California.
Finding Inspiration in a House
When I had the idea for my middle-grade novel, Hot Cocoa Hearts, I instantly thought of my visits to the Christmas House. Inspired by the joy and magic I found in that house of my childhood, I invented the Holly Jolly House for Hot Cocoa Hearts. My main character, Emery, and her family create extravagant Christmas displays in the yard of their own house each year. In Emery’s fictional hometown, the Holly Jolly House becomes a symbol of Christmas joy and spirit, and townsfolk make an annual pilgrimage to visit the house each and every year.
The Holly Jolly House had its start in my heart and in the Beckers’s front yard all those many years ago. I am so grateful to the Beckers for sharing and spreading Christmas joy and cheer for decades. I am thankful to my parents for taking us to the house each year, and for making it a family tradition that I think back on with fondness and love. We were a newly blended family, and that was one of the traditions that helped us meld and solidify into something sustaining and wonderful.
My Wish For You
The holiday season is a time to relish long-standing traditions, or to create new ones. Dear readers, my wish for you is that your holidays are filled with love, joy, peace, and family. As you move towards a fresh year full of possibility, make new memories, cherish the old, and find a few moments amidst the hustle and bustle to pause and think about all that you’re grateful for and all the wonder yet to come.