Before moving to London fifteen years ago, we lived in several different states—Massachusetts for seven years, New Jersey for seven years before that, Rhode Island twice. There were other places too, but mostly the suburban northeast, where Christmas decorations, for most of my life, were taken seriously. Both Mrs W and I grew up on Long Island, where dueling outdoor decorations were a given. Not that the actual towns we lived in were characterized by over the top decorating—Hingham, Massachusetts, is much too tasteful, and Highland Park, New Jersey, much too intellectual. But Hingham has Weymouth and Quincy right next door, and from Highland Park we could always just zip over to a couple of well-known streets in Edison. And Providence? You can just imagine.
Boy, did these places have houses with decorations. The whole shebang—Santa and his reindeer on the roof, usually fully lit with spotlights, and lots of figures on the lawn, including penguins, snowmen, angels, Snoopy, sometimes even Garfield, and, lots of inanimate Christmas items such as candles, large inflated ornaments, North Poles, whatever. These were usually internally lit, but a real practitioner would make sure these were spotlit as well. And, of course, thousands and thousands of outdoor Christmas lights—along the roofline and eaves, around the garden, up the walkway and around the front door, in the trees, the shrubs, in some cases even around the boat on the trailer in the driveway. This was serious lighting. We knew streets in Weymouth, or Edison, where I imagine the grid was being stressed all night because of the lights. It was, it must be said, splendid. Urban light pollution? You bet.
So this evening, on our second Christmas in the US since we moved away, we went looking. Jeez, what happened? It’s all, well, how to put this? Boring. Not that the decorations have changed. Santa and his reindeer, including Rudolph, are still up there on the roof. The lawns are still covered with Snoopys and penguins and Frostys. But it’s not the same. What happened? Everyone seems to have gotten rid of those large outdoor incandescent lights, the ones that consumed a tanker of oil each night, and replaced them with those little itty bitty white lights. Italian lights, we used to call them, although I don’t imagine we call them that any more. But there they are, everywhere, looking, well, nice. People go whole-hog to make sure there isn’t an inch of unoccupied space on the roof and the lawn, and then they illuminate it all with these little itty bitty lights? Or lites, which seems the more appropriate spelling. What is this?
They say there’s a war on Christmas. Well, maybe there is. It’s a war to replace tasteless over the top deranged drop-dead astonishing outdoor Christmas extravaganzas with something that looks designed by Martha Stewart. What is the world coming to? Honestly, if this great nation can’t muster the courage to blow a couple of power stations at Christmas any more, what hope is there?