Tacky Night: A Tradition of True Laughter

This Black Friday, fifteen people tromped through a mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was something unusual about this group of people. Actually, many onlookers would say that there was much wrong with this group of people. They were dressed, head to toe, in varying shades of yellow.


I admit, I was one of these strange people. And I laughed the entire time. Geil Family Tacky Night is one of my favorite days of the year. My family is scattered across several states, so our time together is limited. The laughter, however, knows no limit. And the best representation of this laughter is Tacky Night. It started five years ago with simple tacky accessories from the Dollar Tree. We were assigned fun tasks to make an already amazing dinner even more special. Then we stepped it up. Each brother’s family came prepared with tacky Christmas sweaters. My dad wore a toupee wig and we went to the mall. The next year, we decided to try a theme. Animal Print. We marched to the mall on Black Friday to sit on Santa’s lap all dressed in overwhelming varieties of tacky animal print. The next year, Theme Plaid, Santa and his helpers smiled when we got there, “We wondered if you were coming.”


This year, Santa spotted us from above. He opened his arms wide as he rode down the escalator. He was coming back from break and a clan of yellow clad Geils were waiting for him. When he reached the bottom of the escalator, his steps quickened towards us. Those arms were still open and Santa Clause gave us a group hug. Even as I type this, I laugh. This is the stuff cheesy Christmas movies are made of—it doesn’t happen this way in real life.

But somehow, it did. And it drew attention. Phones were whipped out, ready to capture the strange events. Mouths actually dropped as we passed. Security flocked, ready to disband any possible threats. The man in the black suit with the hidden ear piece even came to secure us. I alternated between looking onlookers in the eye and smiling at them and pretending that no one was watching.

My dad did his usual “crawl in the store window to pose with the mannequins” move. This year, my cousin Daniel joined him. Sophie, Molly, and Riley, my six year old cousins, sang jingle bells as they giggled in embarrassment, not realizing that as we grasped their hands, Carinne, Hannah, and I used their cuteness as human shields in our slightly more exaggerated embarrassment. Bekah and Jake rocked the morph suits, until the mall cops came and told them that was against the rules. The moms recorded our shenanigans in photographs. Usually, we cause a ruckus, sit on Santa’s lap, and leave. But this year, we added an extra step to the festivities. Hannah, my middle sister, found a prom dress when we were shopping (dressed in normal clothes) that morning, so all fifteen of us tromped to Dillard’s to make the purchase. Without yet going to Prom, that stunning pink dress has danced a beautiful dance.


I went back to school today. And though I really love my school and my friends and have so much to make me smile and laugh, I felt the anxiety come rushing back in. My stress seemed to mock silly laughter’s attempt to calm me. Was it only three days ago that I was at such peace? At such a happiness high?

I got to the point of brain shutdown tonight. I was no longer effective in studying and writing papers. “Write about tacky night” was on my mental to-do list. (It’s when I write sentences like that that I realize I have a very strange life.) But I really didn’t think I could muster up enough thought to write something that would accurately describe the joys and craziness of the night. So instead, I started my self-allotted thirty minute mind break by staring aimlessly at my computer. A picture popped up that led me to the video I made for my grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary a few years ago. I spent twenty minutes travelling back. Back to the summer of my senior year when I made the video. And then further back, back to the very beginning when my Gege was a girl and my Granddaddy a boy. When the bus for their senior field trip stopped suddenly and my grandmother fell into the seat my grandfather was sitting in, a story was started. Love grew. They trusted in God.


The story of my grandmother and grandfather is beautiful. Their love is the truest I have ever seen. But I know that their story is not perfect. I know that they have had stressful days and sorrows and hurts and days when they did not think they could go on. But, with laughter, they raised three boys who love the Lord. As those boys grew, they continued the legacy of love. And somehow, that led to a bright night this November. In our yellow, we laughed, but even in our laughter we shared the hurts. From the six year olds to my grandparents, the time we spend together is so rich because we share the stories of the year. Many of those stories include sad tangents. Pain and struggles are just as fundamental as the laughter in teaching us. Tacky Night is our Christmas tradition celebrated at Thanksgiving. I just realized how apt that is.

Jesus came as a baby. He came to bring joy. “Joy to the world, the Lord is born!” His story is a story of beauty and perfection that has never been matched. But He came in sorrow and sadness. He had bad days, full of betrayal and temptation and pain. This did not detract from his perfect joy, even as He died –the worst day in history.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

I was full of happiness Friday. I was full of discontent Monday. I don’t have to laugh all the time. In fact, it’s better that I don’t. But in laughter and in stress, joy comes from fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Man of Sorrows who is the creator and true source of Joy.

Over fifty years ago, my grandparents promised to raise a family with their eyes fixed on God. And so they taught three boys that love and laughter can be true, even when there is hurt. Now, these three boys (with their great wives) are teaching my cousins and me. They teach us through daily support and year round love, but also through Tacky Night each Thanksgiving. Though the year can be full of pain, we have so much to be thankful for.

This Black Friday, fifteen people tromped through a mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. There was something unusual about this group of people. Each life was built on the foundation of love.  Laughter and peace won, even through the darkness. That laughter, steeped in life, was just as bright as our clothing.



3 thoughts on “Tacky Night: A Tradition of True Laughter

  1. So enjoyed seeing the pictures and now reading your account of “tacky night.” Your family is very special and your grandparents are wonderful examples of loving parents to their boys (and grandchildren). It is amazing when your realize what family life in childhood was like for them. It does show what God’s love in a marriage does. Have a blessed advent season. Your first cousin once removed:) Eunice Showalter

  2. So excited that your father’s Facebook post has led me to your blog. I shared the Tacky Night on FB. It truly must be fun to be a Geil.

  3. Thank you Ra Ra Kate, for doing a beautiful job capturing some of the joy of our family and the faith that sustains us! One of the highlights for me this year was having the littlest of our crew notice how, “people were walking by with frowns on their faces…then they saw us and then they smiled!” May our lives so continue to reflect Jesus that this is the effect we can have on folks-from frowns to smiles, from sadness to joy.
    Uncle E

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