Let Others Enjoy Your light


“There’s a fine line between super cute and super tacky Christmas decorations”

Do you remember when having your house decorated like Clark Griswold’s in Christmas Vacation was something to be laughed at and avoided? Now it’s a badge of honor and something to strive for. You have inflatables, roof top decorations, synchronized lights, lights set to music, crèches and who knows what else Costco will think of next. I can’t believe the things people put up these days. It’s crazy.

Wait. Check that. I can believe it, and before I adjust the onion on my belt I need to remember my childhood. Because, you know, super cute and super tacky are all in the eye of the beholder.

When I was a kid there was man in the neighborhood who did his house and the neighbor’s houses up in an absolutely extravagant manner. Every year his displays were different. They were intricate affairs that drew thousands of people in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He put Clark Griswold to shame.

The theme was always Santa’s Workshop and every year it became more and more elaborate, with robotic elves and eventually a real Santa Claus. Let me set the scene: Southern California, a successful middle-class contractor with access to tools and labor who delighted in making children happy.

I was told he would begin planning in the spring and start construction in the summer. He would frame out entire rooms in the front yard of his house and the neighbor’s, and it would be house quality construction. It would get finished out and decorated in the months before Thanksgiving.

As the years went by he expanded it to cover the front of 6 houses. It was a whole panorama scene you could walk through. There would be animatronic elves building toys in Santa’s workshop or dancing at a party or ice skating, animatronic reindeer moving their heads in the stable, and a Santa who you could wait in line and see. I remember that they would find out your name and surreptitiously get it to Santa before you got into his lap so that you would just know that it was the real Santa because he knew your name even before you could tell him. Santa would give you a candy cane when you were done visiting.

There was even a giant pine tree that was strung with standard sized colored light bulbs and a big star on top that you could see all the way from the freeway, 1/2 a mile away. They used to get a cherry picker to hang the lights because it was so high.

The level of craftsmanship and the quality of the work and thought put into everything was amazing. Dozens of people volunteered their time and the man behind it made sure that every year was better than the last. The fronts of half a dozen houses would disappear for a couple of months a year so that the local neighborhood and visitors could experience a Christmas wonderland. It was his gift to us.

We embraced his gift, and people flocked to it. Without fail the newspapers and local television stations would do an annual story about it. On the weekend it was packed with people and cars driving by to get a look. Probably a thousand people would visit it every weekend.

I visited it every year until I graduated high school and it was always something I looked forward to. I would invite a bunch of friends over to my house and we walk the mile over there caroling the whole way and back. When I was in college I heard he stopped doing it because of ill health. I’ve always thought that other people missed out by not seeing his work and gift of love year after year.

Now here’s the rub: I bet you at least half of his neighbors hated his guts for turning their neighborhood into a spectacle choked with traffic and people walking on their lawns for several weeks a year. I’m not sure how I’d feel about that being down the street from me. I’d like to think I’d be game and help out the cause.

The point is, by sheer numbers a whole bunch of people in the neighborhood had to hate the sight of it, or even the thought of it. To some it was super cute, and to others super tacky. But, to him it was a thing of beauty.

But, I’ll tell you what: He decorated for Christmas in a way most people don’t. He went at it full tilt and made a commitment most people would never make. He went big and proud and loud and did what he wanted to do. His work and vision spoke for themselves and were compelling enough for people to come from all over the city of Los Angeles just to look at it.

So, when I hear someone wonder where the line is between cute and tacky with Christmas decorations I’d prefer to think of it all as going big. It may not be to anyone else’s taste but, if you want to, go big and enjoy what you have.

Be merry and bright. Let others enjoy your light.

Merry Christmas


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