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Twelve Days of Christmas : Day Three


Exterior Illumination

Just like Rusty, my father taught me everything I know about exterior illumination, which is absolutely nothing. My father is not a handy man and I inherited this lack of skill. We never had lights on the outside of our house, or in the trees, or any of that happy horseshit, and I for the most part, never did at my house either. I’ve toyed with the idea over the years, but it seems like a lot of work, for not a lot of reward, and then you have take them down. While my father did not believe in hanging exterior lights, I think he enjoyed the concept, because we would all be loaded into the station wagon and driven around housing developments, looking at other people’s lights. Maybe he was just giggling to himself that at least he didn’t have to take them down. Maybe he really liked them. Maybe he was just killing time. I’m not really sure. I’ll have to ask him.

For the most part, the decorated house runs in three categories: Sad, Tasteful and Excessive.


The worst kind of Christmas decorations are the ones that make the house look worse than it would have if they’d done nothing. Like maybe you didn’t actually want to light up your porch, what with the old washing machine sitting there with the broken chair, the empty beer bottles, and the plant that’s been dead for three years, overflowing with cigarette butts.

The lights are either those tacky fake icicle string of lights that look like they were hung by a drunk person with a staple gun, and they don’t ever quite reach across the entire front of the house. You can’t get lazier than these lights. They give the illusion that you did a lot of work, but we all know it’s just a single strand of lights.

If they didn’t go with the dripping lights, you can be sure they’re either multi-colored, or they blink, or they’re multi-colored and blink. Like a Christmas Whorehouse or a Used Car Lot.

The saddest houses often also have the illuminated lawn ornaments. Maybe a high blood-pressure Santa, or a Frosty the Snowman. Often they won’t even be lit up, so at night, they’re more like a creepy gnome left over from Halloween, hiding in the shadows. Or they’ll be lit up, but leaning against one another like drunk cartoon characters.

You might be thinking I’m just picking on poor people, and maybe I am. But even poor people can have taste. There are very wealthy people who don’t decorate at all. Maybe you should save your money.


You’d think I’d end with this one, because I clearly think it’s the best, but it’s not the most interesting. I’ve seen houses decorated tastefully. A single string of white lights, hung along the sides and corners of the house, or maybe just along the porch. There are candles in the windows and a wreath on the door. Maybe I am just being classist and that it’s all about money. But I don’t think so. You see, it’s not about the money, it’s about restraint. People with restraint, decorate on the inside, for themselves, in moderation. And that’s really what tasteful Christmas decoration is all about: restraint and moderation.

If you want to do lights. Keep it simple. Do the lights in the windows. Maybe a little greenery. Hang a wreath.

Last year we ran a simple strand of pine rope, wrapped around the front porch, like we have for years, but we added a strand of small, white lights loosely wrapped around the rope. It was nice. Not too much work. No staples. No ladders. Classic. Elegant.


You know where I’m going to go with this. These are the houses we all love to hate. We’ll make fun of them, and then go out of our way to drive by them and gawk. They’re like car accidents; it’s horrific, but you can’t turn away.

These are the houses that get featured on the six o’clock news. They cause traffic jams in otherwise quiet neighborhoods and fistfights amongst neighbors.

Some people love em. Some hate em. Either way, they get a lot of attention.

And clearly that’s the goal here. Bring a lot of attention to yourself.  They say, “Look what I can do!”

I always imagine these guys—and you know it’s a guy, nobody but a guy would go to this level of excess—to be middle management types. More or less the Clark Griswold’s of the world. They make a good living, but no one notices them. They aren’t likely to do anything considered great in this life. They work hard, provide for their families, take a vacation once a year to Florida, and retire at 65 and play golf. They’re hard working, responsible people, except for this one thing.

This is their one opportunity to shine.

This isn’t a hobby for these homeowners. I’m not even sure if can be honestly called decorating.

It’s more like performance art.

The house won’t just be lit, it’s covered every square inch. So are the trees, shrubs, bushes and anything else not moving. If the dog sits still long enough, he’s in danger of getting tied up and plugged in. But they don’t stop there. There are Santa on a sleigh with all eight reindeer, including Rudolph. There are carolers and snowmen, candy canes and elves. There’s even a full nativity scene. All lit up. All of them animated.

In extreme cases, not only are the lights blinking in time, they’re blinking in time to music. I’m not going to get into the people who take this insanity indoors as well, because I think those people need serious mental help, but we’ve all seen pictures, if not the real thing.

The amount of work and expense makes the effort herculean in and of itself. Even if you find the display tacky and tasteless, you have to admire the sheer force of will. The commitment. The electricity! My God, the electricity it must take is awe-inspiring.

Again, say what you will about these houses, but if you want to drive around and look at Christmas lights, like we did when I was a kid, you want to see at least one of these houses.

You know they’re gonna have a great Christmas.

About now, you’re probably thinking this guy is a Christmas snob, and you’d be absolutely right.

I am a Christmas snob.

But only because I want Christmas to be what it was when I was kid. I want to recapture a little of that magic of childhood and Christmas allows me to do that. So for a few months a year, I get to be a kid again. It’s a small price to pay.

Is that so wrong?

About the author

David Todd McCarty

David Todd McCarty is a writer, director, photographer and cinematographer. He writes fiction and nonfiction essays as well as journalism. You can see his commercial work at http://www.hoppingfrogstudios.com

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Writer | Journalist | Storyteller


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