The immediate thought that comes to my mind concerning the trends in extreme Christmas decorating is that everyone who can scrape together a few more discretionary dollars in 2010 will be grabbing those Washington’s and throwing them into that bottomless money pit previously known as their front yard.
We’re going to need more mini-strands, LEDs, lighted wire frames, extension cables, cube taps, controllers, plastic hangers, electrical tape, time in front of a computer (yuk) and endless hours in the front yard assuming positions that man is not intended to assume. As a result, there will be a lot less time to cross off those items on the “Honey-Do” lists that once filled the weekend hours. The more time we spend, the less time we have.
I am not quite sure why the “bigger is better” or “more is macho” mentality has invaded many a home decorator’s mental state other than the thought that somehow, somewhere a monster of a Christmas display could capture that elusive 15 minutes of fame which Andy Warhol foretold several decades ago. We all know it is out there. We have seen other decorators grasp it and display it proudly on websites, t-shirts and gimme caps. We have even talked to wannabees with plans they suspect are unobtainable given their specific circumstance. Maybe that is why some home decorators I know have been seen sneaking over onto the neighbors sidewalk to admire their work, all the while stealing glances up and down the street for any sign of media recognition. I can hear the words echoing now… “Where is that camera crew? Don’t they know this is the coolest house in the city,” or maybe something on the order of “They should put this on the news so everybody can see it.” Yea, that’s the ticket.
The early extreme Christmas light displays, circa 2003-2006 were really not that extreme by today’s standards. They didn’t have thousands of lights nor the hundreds of control channels we’re now used to. Most of the early displays that went viral just a few years ago would now fall into the category of being just average for 2010. Don’t get me wrong, they were indeed over-the-top for their day, but the extremity was founded in their originality and not by their mass. As this technology advances and improves so does the opportunity to grow and enhance our own light displays. The number of homeowners and businesses participating in these computerized displays will also increase. We can all see it coming because we are a part of it. Extreme Christmas light displays are not unlike any phenomenon led by technological advances.
There is a technology lifecycle. It begins with leading edge innovators, followed by early adoption by the curious few; after which a wealth of new resources are brought to the market. As these new resources expand and as more adopters multiply, the efficiency of the whole process matures. Think cellphones. Remember when they were the size of briefcases and you hoped for any kind of signal? Now they’re more powerful than computers of just a few years ago, fit in your pocket and work almost anywhere.
Does this sound familiar? That doesn’t mean what we do with extreme decorating isn’t fun. On the contrary. We love it!
Perhaps Albert Einstein said it best: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
We count many things as we go about designing and implementing our Christmas light displays. We count the number of mini-lights used. We count the number of individual bulbs within a length of rope light. We count the number of controller channels we will use. We count the total feet of electrical wire required to connect all of the lights we previously counted. We count the cars that drive by each night. We count the number of candy canes we pass out to our visitors. We even count the packages of extra lights we bought at those glorious year-end prices for which we have no use. Hey, they were on sale!
There are many things which we do not count. We don’t count the sense of accomplishment we feel after throwing ourselves into this new world of extreme Christmas decorating. We don’t count the number of man-hours we put into our displays. We don’t count the number of times we try to wipe the ear-to-ear grin off of our faces after playing back the visual representation of a song on our video monitor. We don’t count the number of times our children ask us if a friend could sleep over on a busy weekend during the Christmas season so they can share the experience. We don’t count the feeling we have when someone leaves a note in the mailbox about the joy our display brought to their ailing mother. We don’t count the sincere but simple heartfelt remarks from a carload of adults as they drive away and say “Thank you for doing this.”
A few months ago, a colleague of mine announced his retirement after 25 years of a very successful career. I emailed him to wish him well and asked him “What were the most memorable moments of your career?” Knowing his track record and reputation, I was expecting to hear one road story after another. I thought maybe he would tell me about one of those infamous backstage confrontations which those of us in the concert production business have all experienced when two people have different ideas about how something should be produced. Instead, to my surprise, he talked about emails he had received from many people. Some were simple sentences and others were a couple of pages long. All of them were very personal; mostly acknowledging his contributions to the industry.
There were many notes of thanks and appreciation for the positive influence he had in people’s lives either through his mentorship or his untarnished leadership throughout the years of work. Anyone who enters his office can readily count the many awards on his wall, yet the things that mattered most to him are tucked away in a drawer, unseen to others but containing a life full of meaning to him.
Extreme Christmas light displays use a new technology to serve as a vehicle to express how we, as individuals, feel about the season. It is a celebration of light and sound which I consider to be art. Displays could be considered an individual expression of art or they could be considered to be a representation of the emotion behind the art. Yet art expresses much more than emotion. When we express our art, we are not only expressing our emotion and/or our evaluation of life’s experiences, we are also conveying that emotion to our audience. It is our gift to the community. These are the things that count.
So, get ready to hand out Avatar type 3-D glasses this year to the people viewing your extreme Christmas light display. Even if you don’t get around to printing that holographic sign you were going to stick into the ground detailing all the specifications of your display, it’s OK.
This article was included in the March 2010 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Charles Belcher