For 12 years now, I have loaded up my kids every Sunday night in December and headed off into the night to look at holiday lights.
We love the glittering opulence of the mansions on St. Charles Avenue, and who won't always remember the garish extremes of Al Copeland's house by the lake?
But our favorite has always been an otherwise nondescript house in a modest neighborhood on Jefferson Park Avenue in Metairie.
The folks who live here put up the craziest, most joyful, eye-popping and delightfully tacky Christmas display in all the land.
Every inch of lawn, driveway and rooftop is covered in lights and inflatable snow globes and every manner of Christmas imagery both hallowed and decidedly not.
Inside two huge bay windows that face the lawn, they construct meticulous set pieces filled top to bottom with dozens of dolls, statuettes and cartoon characters, many with moving parts, some of them singing Christmas carols, all of them cramped shoulder to shoulder.
We come back to this place year after year, running and hiding among the massive decorations, pressing our noses against the bay windows and playing I Spy with all the million things to see.
I've never seen anything like it anywhere.
But this year....
We drove out to the house last Sunday night and it was, implausibly, impossibly.....dark.
And we were crushed.
They might as well have canceled Christmas.
Oh, what joy these people have given us over the past 12 years; such a part of our family's permanent Christmas story their house had become.
And suddenly... nothing.
I don't know what happened to these people. The house looks oddly vacant now.
In this economy, in these times, I hate to think of the possibilities.
Worst of all, me and my kids feel bad that we never got to say thank you. For the hours of fun and laughter they gave my family – and so many others, I'm sure.
It's one of those mysteries, life's missed opportunities. To thank a stranger for the heroic, time-consuming and costly efforts they expended for the happiness of others.
Whoever you are, you have been the shining star atop our Christmas tree for many years.
We hope that wherever you are, somebody brings to you such joy and delight as you brought to us for all of these years.
Merry Christmas to you, kind strangers.