Every December, millions of Americans demonstrate their devotion to the holiday season by adorning their front lawns with Christmas lights and decorations. These range from strings of white lights to blow-up Christmas characters and light
s that cover entire houses.
Yesterday, I walked by a suburban home whose owners had covered their lawn with brightly lit reindeer and Santa Claus decorations and decked their bushes and trees with constantly flashing lights. Christmas music played from speakers to complete the scene. The lights were still flashing and the music still played when I walked by again at 7:30 p.m., a half hour before bedtime for my young cousins who live around the corner. I don’t know how late into the night this family maintains the display, or even if the lights continue blinking through the entire night, presumably disturbing their neighbors – and certainly disturbing passersby like me.
I want to give these obnoxious homeowners the benefit of the doubt and assume that at some point in the evening they turn off the lights and music. But I know for a fact that other households with slightly less obtrusive decorations often keep their Christmas lights on all night for several weeks.
The common complaint regarding Christmas lights is that people leave them up long after New Year’s. Why do this, critics ask, when you no longer need these lights to show your Christmas spirit? In fact this question misses the point, which is really: why are bright lights and toy reindeer one of the most popular ways to advertise Christmas spirit? Why do people need to advertise it at all?
I must give one disclaimer here: my family is not Christian, so I’ve never actually had any desire to put up Christmas lights. I may be missing some genuinely important aspect of the holiday. But it seems to me that anything beyond a few tasteful lights is simply part of the commercialization of Christmas. I don’t personally care whether Christmas is commercialized; like I said, I don’t celebrate it. But when people cover their lawns with flashy decorations just to prove that they love Christmas as much as their neighbors, it affects everyone who has to walk by or sleep in the vicinity.
Not only are these decorations annoying, but also they’re a huge waste of energy. I don’t want to be condescending towards anyone’s form of religious expression, and if you truly think that the best way to celebrate Christ’s birth is to light up your lawn, then fine. But I believe there are better and less wasteful ways to capture the Christmas spirit – for example, by going to church or volunteering to help the poor.
The winter holiday season is traditionally considered a season of light, and we can certainly celebrate that by lighting candles and even putting some lights on our lawns. But over the last few decades, these lights have become excessive and annoying, and in the process they’ve lost any true connection to Christmas.
Jessica Littman is deputy opinion editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.