Monday, January 9, 2012

The Christmas Light Critics

Outdoor Christmas lights are easily one of my top five favorite seasonal traditions. I can't remember a time when my sister and I didn't count Christmas lights while driving home in the dark during the weeks before Christmas. Our goal was always to find at least 100 lit houses, and we weren't above begging our mom to drive the long way home or around an extra block or two in order to meet that goal.

I also remember helping my dad hang lights on the crab apple tree in the front yard of our first house, and on the front pillars and back deck at our second house; he took great care to place the lights evenly, with the goal of not having to adjust a single light after my mom came out and "checked" our work.

On Christmas Eve Eve, my sis-in-law Jenna, her friend Kelsey, and I spent a couple of hours driving around Lincoln, NE admiring Christmas lights. Or at least we intended to admire Christmas lights. I HATE to say it, as did Jenna and Kelsey, but as we cruised through some of the nicest neighborhoods in town we found ourselves more and more disappointed in the Christmas light displays. To help us cope with our disappointment, we created a friendly list of guidelines for hanging Christmas lights, and decided the best place to document and share these "Guidelines for a Perfectly Decorated House" was to post them right here on this blog:

1. Less is more. Please do not cover absolutely every single surface of your house with lights. I'm fairly certain that at least two of the light displays we saw were so bright they could be seen from space.

2. Commit. First, commit to a decorated house. While less is more, please do not consider your house decorated for the holidays with only one six-foot strand of lights haphazardly draped on your evergreen tree. Second, commit to a particular color scheme (all white, red and green, traditional multi-color mix, etc.) and a specific light size (large bulbs, small bulbs, icicle lights, etc.) instead of using every single strand of lights you've every owned.

3. Skip the paraphenalia. While lawn ornaments and inflatables are tolerable in small doses, they should never share a lawn. Rope lights and palm trees should be avoided at all costs. And yes, we saw palm trees. Two of them. In Nebraska.

4. Take pride in your work. Don't leave gaps when you light your roofline or driveway, replace burned out bulbs (especially when the bulbs are large and/or they impact an entire strand), and don't just throw your lights onto the bush. You might think people won't notice, but I promise you, they will.

5. Don't neglect your branches. I lost count of how many trees were lit up to their branches (just the trunks were wrapped with lights), and while I can understand why people do this - it's tough to reach and wrap the branches - it just looks weird. The branches are lonely, people - give them some love!

6. Sync the lights. For the love of all that is good and holy, if you're going to use flashing lights, sync up the flashes of different strands. There were at least a few displays that made the three of us feel nauseous, and likely would have induced a seizure in someone prone to that condition.

I'll admit that this year the lights on my house were anything but impressive; they were actually a little embarrassing considering my dad's lawn/house decoration teachings when I was a child. But it was 85 degrees with 147% humidity outside on the LATE NOVEMBER NIGHT we hung them, and after about six minutes of sweating and being eaten alive by mosquitoes I just draped the lights over two nails near our front door and scurried back inside where my air conditioning was working overtime.

But just because my house isn't on the "Top 10 Best Decorated Houses of 2011" doesn't mean I don't know my Christmas lights. Next year, instead of critiquing Christmas lights, we're going to award the owners of the most beautifully decorated houses. The awards won't be big - just little notes or ribbons or candy (we haven't thought the award process through that far yet) - to let those who worked on the light displays know that we appreciate their hard work and artistic efforts. I'll let you know when we're getting ready to hand out the awards so that you can let us know which houses not to miss!

And in the meantime, enjoy these highlights and lowlights of our Christmas light adventure!

This house looked so elegant - the entrance and trees 
(trunks AND branches) were aglow with bright white lights.

A simple, well-lit nativity scene.

The bulb lights along the roofline and Christmas ornament decorations over 
the garage looked lovely in a traditional red, green, and gold color scheme.

Not everyone appreciates the leg lamp from The Christmas Story, but I do.  
Thanks to my sister's creativity and sewing skills, next year I'm going to dress as the 
leg lamp - and Tom will be the wooden crate in which the leg lamp arrived - for Halloween. 

These were hung on a rickety fence, and many of the bulbs were 
flickering on and off in warning of their soon-to-come fizzling out.

Palm tree #1.  The worst part about this display was the fact that 
someone worked this obviously artificial palm tree into their regular 
lawn design.  The ornaments just added insult to injury.

A good idea in theory, but it just looked like a creepy Christmas octopus. 

Palm tree #2.

This house broke nearly every single rule: way too much going on, every single color 
of the rainbow and size/style of lightbulb used, tacky lawn ornaments in the side yard 
(not visible in this picture, thank goodness), lights burned out all over the place, lights 
completely out of sync.  The one thing this house had going for it was that the 
branches of the trees were covered.

Here's a close-up of the tree on the lefthand side of the picture above.  
This tree - all on its own - broke nearly every single rule.  Here it is one minute...

...and here it is the next.  All of the strands were blinking 
and changing colors.  It was nauseating.

I love all Christmas light displays - the good, the bad, and the ugly - but I can't wait to secretly award the good next Christmas season!

I'll leave you with this video, which showcases a fun Christmas light display set up to sync with the Aggie War Hymn.

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