Our first Christmas lights ride, and how you can’t win ’em all

Are the tears and cold worth it? (Photo: Shannon Johnson/BikePortland)

I had great plans: Our first ever Christmas lights night-time bike ride. It was going to be beautiful, sparkly, twinkly, with Christmas music playing in our ears and sugar plums dancing before our eyes. The children would be in sweet awe, and even my husband would admit it was a wonderful outing and we should make it an annual holiday tradition.  


I should have remembered one of the first principles of family biking: Test the route alone first. 

Instead, I thought we could wing it. After spending a lot of time and tears gearing up, I did a whole lot of coaxing to convince everyone that going out into the cold darkness was really going to be worth it. We were going to enjoy some holiday lights in the coolest way possible, by riding our bike slowly past the inviting displays. 

Except, on our route, there were very few houses actually decorated with lights. I had assumed we could just ride around and enjoy neighborhood light displays, that we would just find a whole bunch of decorated houses…but I was wrong. And my husband, who hates being cold, captured the mood by singing praises to the Grinch and making up his own versions of “the weather outside is frightful–why are we not at home!”


Not every outing is a winner. Heaven forfend that I should give the false impression that every ride is a rousing success. I know, on social media it often looks like everyone is having a perfect time, with permanently smiling children, and an always-perfect-looking parent. Let me be clear: that’s not us! 

And yet…as I look at the pictures and videos, my husband teasing me and my son complaining in the background…I still see mostly smiles and giggles. True, I didn’t take pictures of the tears (mittens that didn’t fit, helmets that were hard to wrestle over hats, a cranky baby), nor did I photograph the unlit houses. But still, the recorded evidence shows a lot of smiles, and at least a few illuminated trees. 

I think there’s a sweet lesson there. The rides aren’t always what we wanted them to be. But even the failures can leave us with a lot of happy memories. There’s something about biking together, being outside, exercising, adventuring, sharing a screen-free activity, all ages, as a family, which outshines a lot of disappointments and mishaps. And years later, sometimes the goofy, soggy, chilly mishaps are the fondest memories. I’m glad we went. In my mind, it’s already a happy holiday memory….just not exactly the way I planned it. 

I hope your holiday rides are lovely. And if they aren’t…I still hope you will remember them fondly years from now. Happy Holidays, from our family yours!

See our Weekend Event Guide for details on holiday light group rides.

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon Johnson (Family Biking Columnist)

Shannon is a 36-year-old mom of  five who lives in downtown Hillsboro. Her column appears weekly. Contact her via shannon4bikeportland@gmail.com

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1 year ago

In our family, many mistakes and mishaps become TRADITIONS. Back in the 90’s I bought the cheapest Santa outfit available from China. After many years of scaring the kids, it still comes out of the Xmas box to confound and amaze.

el timito
el timito
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing your story and keeping it real. It is definitely easier to ensure a fully enjoyable ride – when you are planning for one. Bringing the family along (or even crotchety friends) lowers your chances of complete bliss, but you absolutely don’t enjoy 100% of the rides you don’t go on. Hope the next rides are better!

1 year ago

Aloha Shannon, you get parent points for trying (and ‘no one died’ or skinned a knee).

Back in the ‘bad old days of parenting’ (parents from the depression era) they used to call outcomes like this “character building” for the kids…if such is allowed anymore. Keep it up. 😉

PS. This does bring up one thing I wished we had while being a bike parent for our now grown up kids…a car free + intimate ‘Peacock Lane for bikes’ and peds in an wide alley or similar street. [Especially one that did not help the PIR greenwash its other ~358 days a year.]