Christmas lights go up early in Lehi to celebrate 13-year-old boy
LEHI, Utah — It was still 10 days before Thanksgiving, but that didn’t stop dozens of households from putting up Christmas lights and decorations ahead of Monday night.
“I was like, ‘I guess it’s time to do it a little early,’” said David Shackelford as he brought out a ladder and hoisted lights above his garage. “Then the whole neighborhood up and down has just been lighting up all over the place.”
Of course, Christmas had extra urgency this year as thoughts of many neighbors turned to a 13-year-old boy with terminal cancer.
Eli Augustine was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma — cancer that attacks muscles, soft tissues, connective tissues and bones.
His mother, Elaine, said he was given an 8% to 10% chance of survival when he was 5 years old.
“When we heard that Eli’s condition was kind of going downhill, then Sarah reached out to his mom, you know, ‘what do you think about decorating for Christmas a little early?’” said Mike Newbry of his wife Sarah’s efforts to launch a community-wide celebration for Eli.
Soon, the plan grew into a Christmas lights tour in which firefighters, police, and others would escort the boy down the numerous streets in the area where lights had been put up to bring Christmas early to him.
Elaine Augustine said neighbors decorated and celebrated last year when Eli completed his chemotherapy treatment in May, before his condition once again worsened.
“I feel like it’s a bookend — we celebrated him beating the disease and now we’re celebrating the end,” Augustine said as she grew emotional. “I remember last Christmas thinking that that would be our last Christmas together as our family. And so to have a little Christmas early this year helps me feel like maybe it wasn’t our last Christmas together.”
She expressed gratitude to neighbors and so many others in the community for showing their support and love for her son.
“It’s a way that they’re able to celebrate with us his life,” Augustine said.
Newbry said he couldn’t believe how much the idea spread from street to street with dozens of houses displaying their lights Monday night as Eli passed by, escorted by a fire truck, police and other vehicles.
“A lot of people like to complain about, ‘Oh the Christmas lights are going up earlier and earlier every year,’” Newbry said. “You just never know what people might be dealing with. Someone might need that extra month of the celebration.”
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