If lights twinkled but no one saw … did they really twinkle?

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman January 2, 2014 12:43

xmas-lights “When are you going stop?”

My wife asked the question as I was trimming a deck railing outside our living room with yet another 10-foot-long helping of electrical good cheer.

“When I run out of strings,” I snapped back. And I had plenty left, as I had wheeled a shopping cart full of LED Christmas light 60-packs out of Sonora’s Orchard Supply just a day earlier.

I had already left a sparking, multi-colored trail around the windows, up the stairs, over the woodstove and along the arches that separate the den, kitchen and living room. Armed with a hammer, tacks, staples and tape, I was lighting up every architectural line, angle and corner I could find. When I came to dead end, I grabbed another string and snaked my way out of it.

I even roped lights around our aquarium, whose African cichlids are probably convinced that some mysterious, twinkling predator is stalking them from without.

“This whole thing was tasteful maybe three days ago,” my wife said. “Now it’s kind of over the top.”

“Just a few more strings,” I said, mimicking a drunk’s refrain when the barkeep tries to cut him off.

Yes, I suffer from Seasonal Household Illumination Syndrome (or something like that), and I’m not alone.

Entire Mother Lode neighborhoods get gaudy each Christmas, trimmed up with thousands of lights, animatronic reindeer and inflated rubber Santas and hundreds more Yuletide accessories that go on sale each Labor Day weekend.  As Dec. 25 approaches, someone calls the newspaper, and throngs of motorists creep down the Vegas-like streets in SUVs, gawking in awe. Homeowners brag about outrageous PG&E bills, program computers to turn their front yards into pulsating, Fillmoresque lightshows, and swear airline passengers can see their handiwork from 35,000 feet.

Darkness is no long acceptable:  Main streets, malls and country stores light up for Christmas in a nationwide game of one-upmanship. Lighting ceremonies are now routine at ever higher, brighter trees in front of city halls, courthouses and state capitols across the country. Cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, horses, dogs and entire rolling mangers are wrapped in flashing lights for holiday parades.

So why am I any different from the rest of the Yuletide illuminati?

Because nobody – with the exception of my wife and kids, who really aren’t impressed – sees what I’ve done. I light up the middle of nowhere.

The  pavement ends nearly a half mile before even a twinkling of our own lights can be seen through the oaks and pines. And the fewer than a half dozen down-the-road neighbors that pass by daily on our dirt track are too busy watching for possum or raccoons to cast a glance at my “Christmas in the Boonies” display.

Which gives rise to a few questions:

If you tack up 50 or 60 strings of Christmas lights and nobody sees  them, did you really tack them up at all?  And – going back to the drunk-at-the-bar analogy – is putting up thousands of strings that virtually nobody looks at kind of like dipping repeatedly into the holiday eggnog all by your lonesome?

Or, in my defense, is excessive decorating without the need for an audience or for external approval proof that I just might be well-adjusted and secure?

I doubt it, because at this writing I was still awaiting Johnny’s 2013 verdict.

Johnny is not only our UPS driver but by far our neighborhood’s most frequent Yuletide visitor. “You won!” he declared last year, lugging a raft of 11th-hour packages up the steps of our well-trimmed, well-twinkling deck on Christmas Eve. “Best lights on the hill for 2012.”

So, sure, I’d love to notch back-to-back wins.

Even knowing that nobody else on the hill puts up more than a string or two of lights.

And even if I’m exposed as a guy who goes all with the Christmas lights largely for the benefit of delivery truck drivers.

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman January 2, 2014 12:43
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