Friday, December 14, 2007

Deck the Halls with Rip-Stop Nylon

Let’s talk about Christmas decorations, shall we?

Now, before we get into it, a bit of disclosure is in order. I admit to being somewhat of a Grinch. Don’t get me wrong. I love celebrating the Solstice as much as the next pagan. Every year my wife and I host a small gathering to toast the shortest day of the year (next Saturday, by the way). Every day gets a little bit brighter from that point on, which is a major issue when you commute to work and home in the dark each day. I certainly enjoy the looks of joy on the faces of our children when they open their gifts on Christmas day. And the spirit of peace, joy and happiness espoused in countless Christmas cards would lift the hearts of any man, were they ever actually present around this time of year. Instead they’re being drowned out by the hubbub of commercialism and a flurry of end-of-year socializing.

I suppose that goes a long way to explain the problem I have with the direction modern Christmas decorations have been taking. I recall fondly the Yules I spent in Bavaria as a child. Those homes didn’t need strands of multi-colored lights to evoke the season. In fact, my aunt didn’t use electric lights at all. Instead, her Tannenbaum was simply decorated with candles tucked between the ornaments. I can just hear Frisco Fire Chief Mack Borchardt’s stomach churn at that thought.

But I’m more than happy to drag the plastic tree out of the attic each year and help bedeck it with ornaments collected over the years. We’ll leave the fake versus real debate for another day. But every time I catch a glimpse of the price tags on live trees, I feel like our tree is an investment any fiscal Magi would be proud of. (Ours even has the lights pre-strung. Score!)

I do like the look of a home outlined in lights. My taste runs toward the single-color motif, but I’ve seen some multicolor displays that aren’t bad. A few years ago I tried to string lights around my own home. One trip up the 30-foot ladder and a scramble along the steeply-pitched roof convinced me that this was one tradition I didn’t need to establish.

These days, however, the lights are getting out of control. They’re starting to take over the entire yard. What began as simple strings around the eaves has evolved to the point where no tree, shrub or mailbox goes unlit. Don’t have a tree in your yard? No problem. A tall pole and a few strands of lights and you can build your own.

Which brings us to the topic of “lawn art.” I can take a couple of simple lawn ornaments, tastefully lit. But that’s where I draw the line. Too many lawns in my neighborhood have been taken over by a veritable herd of twinkling reindeer, with their heads bobbing up and down all night. I used to think that the large, wooden figures were extreme. But those have been eclipsed by the latest trend: blow up figures. These often colossal figures are flood lit with enough wattage to supply a small third-world village for a week. And the constant drone of the air pumps certainly violates the concept of “Silent Night.”

But the ultimate extreme can be found in those homes that program their own personal light shows, some of which would be the envy of the stage crew at a Pink Floyd concert. One of my co-workers spends hundreds of hours every year choreographing his display, which draws visitors from all around the Metroplex – and even appeared on a Channel 8 news report earlier this year. He uses his display as a fund-raiser for local charities, and to collect support letters for the troops stationed away from home during the holidays. While this gives an admirable purpose to the excess, I still wouldn’t want to live next door to him! (Check out for details and directions, if you’d like to contribute.)

In our high-tech, high-wattage, rip-stop nylon world the concept of decking the halls with boughs of holly seems awfully quaint. Perhaps our Jewish friends have it right, opting for a simple row of candles to celebrate Chanukah. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide how best to bring a little light to the darkest time of the year. And whether you’re a sour old Grinch like me, or the Cindy Lou Who of North Texas, my fondest wish is that we can get off the high-tech roller coaster and remember why we’re celebrating in the first place. Joyous Solstice, everyone!

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