display of electrified decorations about the exterior
of the house and from the windows is the epitome of a
Christmas setting in suburbia. I have many neighbours
who have spun cocoons of coloured lights about their
homes and the trees in their yard, but one house
nearby has outdone all the rest.
Turn a distant corner and this one house far down the
street explodes from the darkness like a beacon. It
overpowers its lesser-decorated neighbours and draws
the curious closer.
Every bush on this singular property is a nebula of
red bulbs. The trunks of trees are wrapped in green
bulbs while their crowns are blossoming red and white
galaxies. The lawn is densely packed with translucent
figurines set aglow by electricity, every trite
cliché of Christmas. Among the assortment are a
plastic, Victorian, English couple. He is wearing a
blue overcoat while she wears red with white fur
trim. They are posed to look as if they are singing
carols by an imitation gaslight street lamp.
Elsewhere a chorus of white-robed carolers forms a
circle around a Christmas tree. The eye is constantly
searching, trying to take it all in and not miss a
thing. With effort you can discover among the dozen
snowmen in top hats distributed evenly throughout,
the one Winnie-the-Pooh standing over a honey pot
decorated with a bow.
At the very center of the front lawn is the
ubiquitous crèche with radiant Holy Family, Magi,
and an assortment of peripheral characters. Special
focus is brought to this famous stable by a flowing
wave of lights traveling along wires from a single
star mounted at the apex of the roof of the house.
There is more. On the side of the house is a
choo-choo train made entirely of bulbs on a board of
wood, blinking lights creating the illusions of
turning wheels and smoke puffing from the stack.
Across the three cars of the train it reads
"Merry Christmas." Floating above the
front yard on invisible wires is Santa Claus in his
sleigh, pulled by "only" four reindeer with
the lead deer having a red nose. At the top of the
driveway is a make-believe brick fireplace with a
flickering fire crafted of flashing bulbs. On the
roof above a large sign reads "Happy
Holidays." On the chimney a ringing bell
is limned in lights.
The perimeter of the property is fenced in with
plastic red posts molded to appear like candles over
two feet high. Each is crowned by a yellow plastic
flame lit from inside. Fake ivy vines with white
bulbs are strung from candle to candle. At the
driveway, coloured lights form an archway and a sign
is posted asking "Santa Please Stop Here."
Every year as Christmas approaches, my wife and I
seek out this extravagantly decked house. It was a
challenge for us to try and guess what if anything
was new. One year a box went up at the foot of the
driveway. It asked for donations to help pay for the
This one home is so excessively decorated as to be
something of a joke for me and the people I know. On
several occasions, I have taken visitors for a short
drive to pass by the house and hear them exclaim
"how gauche" or "outlandish" or
"such garishness." We always wondered
as to their electric bill. I think we hoped a bit
that the cost would bring to an end these extravagant
displays. Although one recent year, when the display
did not go up, my wife and I felt unexpectedly
disappointed. This year my sensibilities were to
What changed them this year was my grandson Robert.
Robert is four years old and was spending the night
with us. We took him to see the house in all its
luminous splendor. As we came upon the house we said,
isn't it horrible, isn't it silly, as we fumbled to
mold our grandson's aesthetic heritage. How could we
not have anticipated his reaction to the house, his
innocent delight, crying out with joy? He loved the
house. It was the most wondrous house he had ever
seen in his short life. He wanted to live in that
house. I felt like Scrooge being visited by one of
the spirits of Christmas. I saw the house
differently. I saw this sumptuous feast for our sense
of sight with Robert's young eyes.
What did Robert know of the profound mythology, the
popular belief in theanthropism? He understood only
the joy, only that someone wanted to make him and
others happy and that was enough reason for the
That was indeed enough reason for those lights.
Another night I went back to the house, staying in my
warm car, taking notes in preparation for this essay.
I wanted to get the details right. I wanted to be
accurate. And while I sat there, I was witness to the
slow moving line of cars that came by to see the
house. Some cars even parked and families climbed out
despite the winter cold so that children could get a
closer look. People were putting money into the box
to help defray the cost of electricity.
It happened that a young fellow came out from the
house to inquire as to what I was doing. The
elaborate display belonged to him. He guards them
from the shadow, for there has always been trouble
with vandals, who one year even stole the money from
the donation box. When I revealed I was preparing
notes to write this essay for Snakeskin, he gave me a
tour and I was allowed to see the whole of it from
his point of view. Once out of the car, I could hear
the music coming from the display.
Trained as an electrician, he showed me the clever
details that went into this annual production, how it
was all made safe and secure. Indeed, we recently had
a windstorm with tornado warnings and gusts up to
eighty miles per hour, yet he lost nothing. And he
shared with me the personal history of his ritual,
established by his father, carried on first by his
older brother and now by him. He knew every glowing
item in his vast collection and its history. He had
started his part of the collection at age fourteen
and he pointed out the subtleties that I would have
never noticed. The unique magenta colour of lights on
one tree resulted from the age of ancient bulbs that
had faded, so old were they. Those particular bulbs
are no longer being produced. Many of the decorations
he crafted himself, such as the train and fireplace,
and some of the figurines were donations. He tossed
the lights on to the bushes allowing them to position
themselves randomly, but the red bulbs interspersed
with occasional green bulbs that ran along the
outline of the roof he had carefully arranged, so
that the green ones all lined up. His passion lit up
his face and I found his enthusiasm contagious.
I had admitted to his efforts not being quite to my
taste, and how among my family his art was regarded
as something vulgar. I could see the light go out of
his face and realized I had injured him deeply. I
made amends by telling him of my conversion, having
seen it all through my grandson's eyes.
That night I gave him a dollar towards his electric
bill, which for this Christmas production comes to
$1,200. When later I told my spouse, she said it
wasn't enough, especially if I'm getting an essay out
of it. We went back the next night and she put more
money into the box.
The lights come down after the eighth of January. He
had explained to me that his father served in the
Second World War, when the Russians were our allies.
The lights are left up long enough to include the
Orthodox Feast of the Nativity.