One of my fondest childhood memories of Christmas in the 1970s was riding around in the family station wagon, “Bessie,” to look at Christmas lights while I whined to my parents about needing a snack — again.
There was something magical about a familiar evening landscape transformed to a radiant wonderland at the expense of someone’s lumbar spine.
My dad always made sure that our house was exemplary in its presentation of illuminated holiday décor, and even now, his legendary displays make my own attempts look like those of an unsupervised toddler with a Lite-Brite toy.
Little did I know as a child exactly how much work goes into producing a respectable home display that delights passersby and annoys the neighbors.
But now that I’m an adult (sort of), I take pride in climbing on the roof and crawling around the yard for the sake of an electrified Christmas spectacle that makes me feel like I’ve sprained everything except my belly button.
Maybe because of the intense effort I put into my own residential Christmas lights, I’ve become a bit of a snob when evaluating those of others — to the point that I’ve come up with the following categories:
This is the type of display for which I strive each year. It includes every string of lights that can be scrounged up from the attic — along with a cartload purchased as soon as Walmart replaces the Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins with Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes in late October.
This is the kind of overwhelming display that might cause acute retinal damage with prolonged exposure. It’s truly a sight to behold — if you dare.
The My-Wife-Made Me-Do-It
This display (if you can call it that) is clearly installed under duress — and probably during the commercial breaks of a Dallas Cowboys football game.
The jumbled lights look as if they’ve been strung by someone being attacked by hornets, and they include the absolute minimum — maybe one string of bulbs and a mildewed inflatable Nutcracker sagging toward the storm drain.
It’s better than nothing — but just barely.
It’s obvious that someone paid big bucks to have professionals do all the work on this geometrically precise display with meticulous ridge line coverage.
It’s beautiful, no doubt, even bordering on the Griswold, but I say that if you aren’t in a bad mood and in need of prescription painkillers when you’re done, it doesn’t count.
This is the house without so much as a plastic baby Jesus glowing on the porch, a single cheap light-up deer in the yard, or even a wreath of dilapidated pine cones on the front door. It’s almost ostentatiously dark and gloomy.
When I see these houses during the holidays, I often catch myself mumbling something like, “How can they not put out a single decoration? Are they out of Tylenol?”
My wife inevitably replies, “Maybe they can’t afford decorations. They could be ill or elderly. Or maybe they don’t celebrate Christmas.”
Then I feel like The Grinch, Scrooge, The Abominable Snow Monster, Heat Miser, Mr. Potter, Frank Shirley and Scut Farkus all rolled into one insensitive naughty-list doofus.
It’s at those times that I need a good lecture from Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Sure, Snoopy has the best lights, but Linus knows what Christmas is all about.