Dec 15, 2010, 10:18AM

All Of The Lights

When it comes to exterior Christmas decorations, go hard, go tastefully minimal, or go home.

Untitled.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1


When I say that an evening tour of local holiday lights was three years in the making for my family, I’m not joking. Inevitably we’d find ourselves dazzled, on some cold autumn evening, by one ferocious display of incandescent Christmas firepower or another, encountered by accident on the way home. Inevitably lethargy, inertia, housework, or prime-time entertainment—or a cocktail of the above—would nix the idea, and yet another holiday season would come and go without the three of us partaking of totally free fluorescent wow and flutter.

Last night we finally broke the streak, and found out whether central Texans go as bonkers for strings of lights and animatronic glowing reindeer as central Pennsylvanians do. (Given that Longhorns fans are as demonstratively rabid as Notre Dame freaks, the assumption was a guarded “probably.”) Our 30-minute filament cruise revealed that (a) the answer is a resounding yes and (b) the world really needs more comprehensive literature on how to go about decorating a home for the holidays.

To my second point, some random thoughts:

A tip: avoid cheap Christmas lights. Buy the most expensive sets, or the sets issued by a brand you’re familiar with and trust. Why? Because spending 20 cents to a dollar extra on a single 100-light string beats having to constantly replace strings due to low quality or the deficiencies of one or two electrical outlets. Take it from someone who’s found this out the hard way.

Like Halloween, Christmas is one of the few times every year that we as homeowners or renters really get to show off our innate creativity and interact with our neighbors beyond the level of incidental small talk, when we get to feel that we’re part of an actual community as opposed to living in one of a huge, sprawling cluster of small castles where everyone’s immersed in solo electronically-enabled pursuits. Thus, everyone should feel emboldened to bug the fuck out on decorations. December is your moment. Twenty strings of multicolored lights? Fuck it, buy ‘em. A huge inflatable Santa astride a polar bear? Why not? Two-dimensional wooden penguins that you carved and painted by hand, because you’re good like that? Do it. Lighted oversize candy canes planted along the sides of the driveway? Totally. Covering every inch of the trees in your yard in lights and spelling out “Santa Land Here” on the roof? What have you got to lose? Some neighbors may snicker and jeer, but they’re idiots who don’t get it; take pride in bringing a bit of joy to children young and old, and maybe inspiring the less-than-engaged to spring for a wreath or garland or life-size manger scene at Home Depot.

What became apparent to us is that when it comes to holiday decorating, neighbors break into factions, or blocs. We cruised three or four neighborhoods, and often suburban streets and avenues would pass in near darkness—Texas, more street lights would be appreciated—and then out of nowhere there would appear a solid stretch of six or seven homes where every conceivable stop had been pulled out, as if the residents conferred and planned and came to a unilateral agreement to collectively blind their subdivision. (Note: a lot of this kind of thing went down at Halloween, too, which I found gratifying.)

A word of caution: if you’ve got more than one flashing illuminated element, you’ve gone too far. It’s gaudy, distracting, and can create the impression that one is looking at a desperate place of business, not someone’s home. (Also, no one wants to suffer a stroke at Christmas.)

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with putting on an old-fashioned, uber-minimalist Christmas display: you know, a scrim of lighted icicles along the eave, a lone electric candle in each street-facing window, a lit tree glowing comfortably from the living room. The basics. That’s the kind of display that says, “I’m the kind of vaguely reticent, peaceful person who celebrates Christ’s birth or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa with an awed, quiescent whimper rather than with a Fourth of July-like ka-boom.” It’s easy to snicker at these folks, but really, we should all salute them; they’re probably retirees and grandparents for whom clambering up three stories on a shaky ladder to staple-gun some lights around the edge of the roof isn’t a realistic option, and they’re joining in the neighborhood’s year-end fun the only way their able. Don’t hate.

Now, putting a lone string of lights along your fence or around your front door, or lazily enclosing one or two bushes with a net of lights? That isn’t decorating your house for the holidays. That’s like planting three little flowers in your garden when there’s room for three dozen. If anything’s deserving of mockery, scorn, and low-key vandalism, this sort of half-assed non-try at being festive and merry is.


Register or Login to leave a comment