Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Deck the House - and Lawn

Recently a few of my neighborhood friends and I were visiting out by the curb in front of my house. Among them was a first-time father of a baby boy. With his son content in his dad's arms, I was telling him how Christmas preparations are different pre- and post-child. He began to shake his head and commented, "I guess I will have to start putting up outdoor decorations now."

A few of us season-hardened dads nodded in agreement as we recalled those carefree days when "outdoor decorations" meant a wreath on the front door and a five-dollar bill in the mailbox for the postman. We started to trade stories of tangled wires, blown fuses and standing on non-OSHA-approved perches to reach the top of the house. Each man in turn offered the same advice: "Pick a warm day for your first go-round; you'll be out there awhile." One grey-haired, outdoor décor veteran offered his sage wisdom too: "Pick white lights, string them up and leave them in place year-round. Come next December, you'll be glad you did."

I could almost see the young father's eyes start to mist as he remembered the no-small spectacle of his dad's yearly lawn-ornament-and-light show. He recalled it with great satisfaction, detailing the effort his dad put into the display. It was as if the family's social rank was somehow tied to the lumens emitted from their residence. Also counting toward a family's neighborhood prestige was the number of plastic Santas, elves, reindeer and miscellaneous figures covering the roof and lawn. It suddenly dawned on him that he was now the dad who had to protect his son's social status among his diapered peers.

As we spoke, I imagined him strolling the Christmas aisles of Home Depot. Surveying this year's inventory of blinking TV cartoon characters, inflatable snow globes (complete with Santa in a bubble) and other yard bling, he must decide what message he will send as he adorns his property in radiant light. Will he choose eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient bulbs? Will he go high-tech and synchronize his halogen, high-beam lights to an upbeat Christmas melody blasted out on Dolby surround sound speakers? Or will he take an eclectic approach and mix it all up with a fan-animated Santa that bobs and weaves; blue, electric icicles hanging off the gutters; glowing candy canes on the roof marking out a landing strip for Santa's gift-laden chariot and other priceless kitsch.

As the older men pondered this young dad's pending dilemma, one grandpa shared his minimalist approach: "I just like to put out a Nativity set. It gives the best light of all."

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