Like most of you, I love the festive mood, the spirit of giving, and the sense of family during the holiday season. I also love the tradition of fresh-cut Christmas trees decorated with shiny spheres of glass, long strands of silver tinsel, bright and colorful strings of lights, and topped with a radiant golden angel siting majestically, upon the highest peak. On cold December evenings, I’ll slowly stroll through my neighborhood, bundled in layers of warm clothing, as I enjoy the wonder of subtle, yet beautiful Christmas decorations. I especially enjoy brightly lit candles in the windows of houses, a single tree aglow in the front yard with either white, red or blue lights, candy canes standing tall and proud like soldiers lined up along the walkways, and a few silver icicles hanging like thin frozen spears of ice.
Over the past few years though, I’ve been observing that Christmas decorations have made a slow, but steady change from simple, yet lovely displays to more garish scenes. Houses have become adorned with thousands of blinding lights, windows plastered with dozens of Christmas images, and roofs loaded with the crushing weight of multiple yuletide figures. I have also seen once barren lawns filled with what looks like a cross between a Macy’s Halloween parade and a Disney character convention.
I don’t know if you’ve made the same observation, but every neighborhood has one family who takes the spirit of Christmas to a new level when it comes to festooning their abode with the latest, and extremely elaborate Christmas decorations. I happen to live next door to one such family. My neighbor’s house is so bright; I’m surprised it doesn’t have planets circling it. I often wonder what kind of electric bills my neighbor must have. His house sucks so much energy off the local power grid that if I put a couple of pop tarts into the microwave, my lights momentarily dim. You know you’re using a lot of kilowatts when you receive a Christmas card from the president of the local electric company saying, “Thank you very much. My daughter’s going to love her new pony.”
I wonder if the supervisor at the local power station sees a sudden incredible surge in energy consumption, and tells his foreman, “Hey Joe, it looks like we may have to put the back-up generator on-line tonight. That darn 4572 Maple Street just turned his lights on again.”
Did you ever notice how people from far and wide will congregate on sidewalks in front of overly decorated houses? They’ll stand for hours in the frigid cold and stare in wonder at the shimmering and sparkling lights. They will often join hands, and in a remarkable moment of togetherness, sing Christmas carols as they sway in unison to heartfelt songs of love, joy, and universal peace. Children bundled in thick layers of clothing, over-sized ski hats, and tiny mittens will stand next to their parents and gaze wide-eyed upon the scene with the innocence of youth as they anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus. As you listen to a cacophony of ooh’s and ah’s rise to a remarkable crescendo, you sense a feeling of love and joy that is hard to describe.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Now fast forward to let’s say – six hours later. What do you see? You see empty sidewalks, as no one is left to witness the brilliant spectacle. Everything is quiet and calm as snow, driven by an icy wind blankets the landscape. The magical scene that occurred hours ago is just a distant memory. If you were to enter the bedroom in the house next door however, you wouldn’t sense any love or joy, or even peace and quiet. You would encounter tightly closed shades, drawn curtains, and two blankets covering the windows facing the neighbors’ house. You would also see a solitary man lying on his side, wide awake as he stares silently at an alarm clock on a nearby table which ticks in a precise rhythm as the seconds move slowly forward at an infinitesimal pace. Perched upon his nose is a pair of sunglasses which provide no respite from the nearby Christmas lights.
I sometimes call my neighbor’s house a “trouble beacon.” Let me explain. Sometimes on cold autumn nights, I’ll sit on my deck and stare at the stars above. I’ll think of the incomprehensible vastness and mystery of the universe and ponder many perplexing questions. Is there life out there? Are we alone in our never-ending journey through space and time? I’m not sure if I believe in extraterrestrial visitations to our planet. I’m not even sure if I believe in the many claims of alien abductions. What I do know is this. If there are, highly intelligent and technologically advanced aliens circling the planet in geosynchronous orbits in ships invisible to our radar and satellites, then they will most likely be searching for beacons of civilization. They will look for signs of our existence and habitation which can be pinpointed, even in the darkest and forbidding nights. Did you ever wonder how aliens pick their next victims? Hey neighbors with the blinding lights! Can you say, “Welcome to our planet, and what do you mean you want to mate with me?”
This year I’ve also started to see more of those gigantic, brightly colored, inflatable decorations that have become a popular addition to front lawns across America each holiday season. I don’t have a problem with these decorations at night as they stand silent and tall on snow-covered lawns like sentinels awaiting Christmas Eve. As a matter of fact, I make it a habit of walking my dog on cool, clear evenings, and visiting some of the more spectacular displays.
A few nights ago, while on my customary walk, I encountered a house down the street with a huge display of inflatable holiday decorations which lit up the yard with a beauty and grace, rare in today’s world. Neighbors had gathered with me to witness and enjoy the elaborate spectacle. Santa, standing under a moonlit sky in red and white, appeared to be waving his hand in the gentle breeze. The reindeer looked as if they were ready to rise into the cloudless sky on their Christmas Eve errands. Frosty was even there with a happy face and his familiar, and distinctive black hat. It was magnificent!
The next morning, I got up early to take my dog for a walk. As I passed the same house, I was shocked and horrified to see what appeared to be a drive by shooting. Darn those Gantsa’s! I seemed to be observing the aftermath of what looked to be a holiday massacre. Santa was lying like melted butter in the snow with a hand extended toward Mrs. Claus, who lay motionless nearby. The reindeer looked like a hunter had bagged himself a herd of deer, as they lay strewn across the lawn. Even Rudolph, hadn’t escaped the carnage. Oh no, there was Frosty. Poor Frosty. All he ever wanted was to live, and somehow make it to the North Pole.
I have a little advice for people who like to put inflatable ornaments in their lawn. Could you please keep them inflated all the time? I know there are a lot of kids in my neighborhood who will be having nightmares for years to come. I know, I certainly will.
I have one last thing before I move on to another simple observation. I used to be bothered by people who kept their Christmas lights up all year round. That was until the famous Christmas light incident of 2005. It involved Christmas lights, me, a huge, wooden extension ladder, and my wife, whose job was to hold the aforementioned ladder, as I removed decorations during a cold and windy January morning. My Christmas lights are still up!