| 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. All topped with a radiant golden angel which sits majestically upon the highest peak. On cold December evenings I’ll stroll my neighborhood, bundled in layers of warm clothing as I enjoy the wonder of subtle, yet beautiful Christmas decorations. I especially enjoy brightly lit white 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, 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 lawns littered 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 it seems that 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 should I say, extremely elaborate Christmas decorations. I happen to live next 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 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 these brightly lit and over-decorated houses? They'll stand for hours in the frigid cold and stare in wonder at the sparkling lights. They will often join hands, and in a remarkable moment of universal brotherhood, sing Christmas carols as they sway in unison to songs of love, joy, hope, and peace. Children bundled in layers of clothing, over-sized ski hats, and tiny mittens will stand next to their parents and gaze upon the scene with the innocence of youth as they anticipate the arrival of Santa Claus. As you listen to a cacophony of "oohs" and "aahs" 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 peaceful landscape. What occurred hours ago is just a distant memory. However, if you were to enter the bedroom of the house next door you wouldn’t sense any love and joy, or even peace and quiet. You would encounter tightly closed shades, drawn curtains, and two blankets covering the windows facing the neighbor's brightly lit house. You would also see a solitary man lying with his back to the nearest window, wide awake as he stares silently at his alarm clock which ticks in a precise rhythm as the hours pass. Perched upon his nose are a pair of sunglasses which seem to provide no respite from the nearby Christmas lights. I hate excessive Christmas decorations!
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 from a distant galaxy circling the Earth in geosynchronous orbits in ships invisible to our radar and satellites then they will most likely be searching for beacons of civilization. They will scan for signs of our existence and habitation, which can be accurately pinpointed even in the darkest and forbidding nights. Have you ever wondered how they choose their 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 inflatable holiday decorations which 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 and visiting some of the more spectacular displays. A few nights ago 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 which is rare in today's world. Other passersby gathered with me to witness and enjoy the elaborate spectacle. Santa standing under a moonlit sky in red and white appeared to be gently waving his white-gloved 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. Damn those gangstas! I seemed to be observing the aftermath of what looked to be a holiday massacre. Santa was lying like melted butter 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 snow. Even Rudolph hadn't escaped the carnage. Oh no, there was Frosty. Poor melted Frosty. All he ever wanted was to live and somehow make it to the North Pole. I have a little advice for people who 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.
One last thing before I go. I used to be bothered by people who kept their Christmas lights up all year round. That was until the famous, but highly unfortunate 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 blustery January morning. Just to let you know, the lights are still up!