Thursday, December 5, 2002

When Did We All Become the Griswolds?

What to do with the extra 100,000 lights in the atticTake note of the candy canes in the tree canopyHow many good-taste violations can you find on this house?There are two Christmas movies that we watch every year, without fail. A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

Of course, for the purposes of this discussion, the story of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Rider bee-bee gun really avails us little. The Griswold family Christmas, on the other hand, serves us perfectly. Anyone who has seen the film must remember how, when Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) finally illuminated the outside of the house – every square inch of the house – he blew the local power grid. He even sent his neighbors reeling away from their windows, shielding their burned eyes from the light. One also cannot forget how, in the tumultuous familial climax, Clark's plastic Santa Claus and reindeer were launched from the roof by an explosion of pent-up sewer gasses.

Good times. Good times.

Exploding sewer gas or no, this makes me think (and how many Chevy Chase movies do that, I ask you). Is the current state of outdoor holiday decoration the real culprit for the west-coast power crises? Is string-light proliferations a threat to our communal sense of decency?

You only have to drive through any neighborhood in any American community to see what I mean. Christmas lights climbing every light pole and tree, hanging from every awning and lintel. The pale of these lights is enough to examine jewelry by. Down in Chastain Park, for instance, the difference between night and day is more a factor of household voltage than ambient light.

But don't get me wrong. I like the tacky light tours as much as anyone else. My family has long practiced the slow Christmas Eve drive through Sandy Springs and Dunwoody – jaws agape, chuckles frequent – just to see this year's batch of offensive holiday dedications.

I just wonder when it was, exactly, that we lost our good taste and humility. Is this another case of technology running amuck? Has holiday light progress outpaced the moral sense of right and wrong for icicle lighting?

Let's take a look at some of the worst offenders:
  • The illuminated Santa. You see him every year. Climbing into a chimney, waving from the front yard, or leading his sleigh skyward behind his team of reindeer (usually one...the whole team would be prohibitively expensive for any but the most terrifyingly Christmas obsessed light enthusiast).
  • Writing. "Noel" is the most common text, with "peace" and "merry Christmas" falling is just behind. I keep waiting for one to just say "Look at me!"
  • Outlined reindeer. At least they don't come in multi-color blinking versions. Yet.
  • Lighted manger scenes. Nothing honors the birth of the Christian savior quite like his birth done in three-color running lights. Those flashing light behind the manger? A keno board.
  • Giant menorahs. The Christians don't have all the fun, though. More common than the lighted crosses or stars are the lighted menorahs that come out to the front yards every Hanukkah.
  • Christmas villages. The most awful holiday light configuration – outside of amusement parks and community centers, of course. What prompts the casual citizen to wake up one Thanksgiving and say, "You know what my holiday decor could use this year? An entire Christmas village on the front yard!"
  • Out of season displays. There is no excuse, whatever the reason, for having "Happy Christmas" written across the roof of your house in July. None. That's all we need to say about that.
Of course, we're exaggerating. It's just that when I remember decorating the house as a kid, we didn't have all these terrible options. The biggest dilemma was white lights or colored? Small lights or big fat ones? Blinking or static? Icicle lights didn't even exist yet! For the record, we used to decorate the house with small, white, static lights – inside and out. They're what we still use. The only stings of colored lights I've ever used were dorm-room decor. Frankly, that's where they belong.
But not all advances in yard illumination science are bad. I could kiss the person who developed the white-light net. Lighting the bushes takes a tenth of the time it used to. The innovation I really long for, though, is the light string that can be conveniently stored in the box it came in. I'm a pretty meticulous person, but, I swear, the lights grow after they come out of the way they'll ever fit in there again.

We're critical. It's what we're paid to do. But we love the holidays and all the bad taste that comes with it. I suppose the greatest paradox isn't how a sophisticated civilization like ours sinks, once a year, to such decadent lawn lighting. It's how we can listen to "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" while doing it.

Happy Holidays. fb

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