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Christmas Essay [Dec. 24th, 2004|04:31 am]
[Current Mood |festive]

And now, a change of topic. I always try to write a little something around the holidays. Here's what I came up with while on vacation (well before airport-hell grumpiness):

I'm Gleaming of a Bright Christmas

I am struck by some people's enthusiasm for Christmas decorations. Quite literally, in fact, as in early December I was snagged by someone's giant plywood candycane as I passed on the sidewalk. It was one of those front yards that I try to ignore (evidently at my own peril). It had sprouted an enormous festive flock of two-dimensional holiday cheer. Candycanes, elves, toy sacks, and all other manner of Christmas items covered the property.

There was another house I encountered a little later with a similar plywood plague. This time, it was a horde of Disney characters. How Tigger was associated with Santa was never exactly clear from the display. This homeowner definitely rivaled the first one, though, in their absolutely manic level of holiday cheer.

Now, I want to clarify that there's nothing wrong with the holidays (Christmas, Hannukah, or whichever you might choose), or, for that matter, Disney characters. Given my opinion that people are generally needlessly cruel to one another, I rather like the seasonal spirit and wishes of peace. But what I really don't understand is the way in which people like to expess it. A little decoration, sure, but... this?

There are a couple stunning houses near where Kit works; I pass these regularly while driving to pick her up. These homeowners are competing on an entirely different battleground: lights. Strand upon strand of fairy lights covering rooflines, garages, driveways, shrubbery, pets...

These are not your casual holiday decorations. This is not the blinking strand of multi-colored festive lights put up on a wintry afternoon. No, this is the serious stuff. They are going for sheer candlepower, attempting to literally outshine the neighbors. They eschew colored and blinking lights in favor of the pure white strings ("They're brighter than colored lights! We'll blind the Johnsons with these beauties!").

Late at night, the houses light up the entire street, lumens pumping from the dozens of strands of lights. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the homeowners fiddled with the power boxes to up the voltage, just to squeeze out those few extra watts. Then they could sit back, chuckling to themselves, listening to the whirring of their spinning power meter, secure in the knowledge that their holiday cheer was the brightest. They had the most Christmas Spirit, as measured in glowing bulbs.

At one egregiously spectacular house, I even parked across the street and (purely out of scientific curiosity) found that I could easily read a book by the house's light. The place offered more lights than a smokers' bar full of desperate bachelors. It was obviously in a tough-fought battle with a house down the street and these homeowners, looking for an edge, had covered their entire front door with a grid of lights.

Last time I checked, Santa was an old man but he wasn't having any trouble locating chimneys. We don't need to outfit our houses with landing lights that rival major airports. A few well-placed strands of lights are enough to show your holiday cheer. A lit tree or menorah by the front window can be quite elegant. Instead, desperate one-upmanship is the message that I get from these excessive holiday decorations... and that isn't the Christmas Spirit to me.

Best wishes to all of my friends and acquaintances. A happy, safe, and peaceful holidays to you all!

[User Picture]From: pippinbear
2004-12-24 01:50 pm (UTC)
There's a street near where I live whose houses tend to be covered in lights for a couple of weeks around Christmas... and illuminated Santas, reindeer, sleighs, snowmen, etc, etc. The road gets blocked with cars driving slowly in order to gawp at the lights. And the reason is not just for one-up-manship: a Santa Claus can regularly be found standing at the side of the road, collecting for local charities from the slow-moving traffic. ;>
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[User Picture]From: shalora
2004-12-26 06:38 pm (UTC)
We have one of those too (unless it's the same one), in Palo Alto. It is unoffiially called Christmas Tree Lane. Apparently, if you move onto this street, you have to sign something stating that you will continue to decorate to a certain level and in a certain style! It must be awful to live there at the holidays, I'd bet you can /never/ get home. Nor have friends over for parties due to parking issues...
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[User Picture]From: pippinbear
2004-12-26 08:02 pm (UTC)
Heh, I very much doubt it's the same one - I live in London, UK. ;) We tend to call Lower Morden Lane (the one near us) "fairy-light lane" at this time of year. But I'm pretty sure any agreements there are informal, since there are usually a good number of houses with no outside decoration at all.
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[User Picture]From: foobart
2004-12-29 06:58 am (UTC)
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the homeowners fiddled with the power boxes to up the voltage, just to squeeze out those few extra watts.

If you up the voltage a bit, I hear you can hit 800 Mhz on a Malaysian fabbed string of lights! Of course, you've got to go for the individual Peltier coolers on each bulb...
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2004-12-30 07:18 pm (UTC)
And they said twisted-pair network cables were dead! ;)
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