Tacky Christmas Lights

December 18, 2008 | By | Comments (16)

Stevechristmas

You see one in every neighborhood — a house and yard with so many Christmas lights that people on Mars complain about the glare. So when is a Christmas light display merely exuberant and when does it devolve into tacky?

I ask this question as someone who grew up with tacky. We had a big crabapple tree in the front yard that we would decorate every Christmas with big, gaudy, bright green C-9 lights. I can state with certainty that we had the only green crabapple tree in the neighborhood. But when you’re a kid, you accept everything and think anything looks good. People would drive by, gaze at the Big Green Monster, and say, “Oooooh — look at that.” I naturally interpreted their reaction to mean, “I believe that tree belongs in the Guggenheim.”

Our holiday light display continued to grow more sophisticated every year. My father bought this electric color wheel that would slowly revolve in front of a spotlight aimed at the front of our house. Our house would change from blue to yellow to green to red. It’s lucky we lived in Baltimore and not Amsterdam or the local working girls would have been very confused.

The Fire Down Below

One of the tackiest light displays I’ve ever seen occurred in a cave, believe it or not. My brother had flown down to visit us in Birmingham and made the mistake of staying for three days. Well, Birmingham has only enough sights to see to occupy a family for a max of two days — we have Vulcan, the huge cast-iron statue; the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is quite good; the McWane Science Center, another decent diversion; two good botanical gardens, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Mountain Brook and Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover; a host of malls (like which town doesn’t have one?); and that’s it. So we had to look elsewhere.

About 40 minutes from my house is a well-known cave. It’s well-known because it’s name is on several billboards (you know you’ve made it when your name is on a billboard). I always thought it was a state-owned cave, but it turns out a family runs it. A family that apparently thinks the Louvre is a store that sells blinds and shutters.

Anyway, my brother loves caving, so we took him there and paid 12 bucks each for the tour. To say the cave was a disappointment was like saying Rosie O’Donnell is somewhat disagreeable. Most of the stalactites and stalagmites — beautiful gypsum formations descending from the ceiling and rising from the floor that took many centuries to form — had been broken off. The family must have needed doorstops.

Near the end of the tour, the family gathers all of the visitors together in the middle of the cave, turns off the lights so it’s blacker than night, and announces they’re treating us to the Christmas Story. One of them grabs a mike and starts narrating the epic tale, while another works the “light show.” Thinking computer-controlled laser light show here? Nope. One guy simply flipped a switch on and off over and over again during key passages to reveal the finest collection of illuminated reindeer, spiral Christmas trees, plastic stars, and neon angels Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store could provide.

The show was — hmmmm — less than exhilarating. Halfway through, my boy Brian, who was three at the time, turned to me and said, “Dad, this is really lame.”

Is Your Display Tacky?

Let me begin by saying there’s a difference between tacky and gaudy. Gaudy is over-the-top garish, but its purveyors know it and have a plan. Tacky is over-the-top-middle-and-bottom and its creators haven’t a clue.

Either is OK, of course. The holidays are about fun and family, so whatever makes you smile is alright by the Grump. Having said that, there are two kinds of Christmas illuminations he and the Martians wish would disappear from the face of the Earth.

1. Icicle Christmas lights — I am so over these! They were cool for the first 5 minutes, but then every house on every street decided to do them and neighborhoods all over the country started looking like a Thomas Kinkade painting. White icicle lights are bad enough, but some people do blue! What is the message here? That your paternal grandfather was Frosty?

2. Inflatable lighted Santas and snowmen — These look so jolly and nice in the morning when they’re deflated and lying on the ground like gigantic trash bags.

Rudolph the Pink Flamingo

Dasher and Dancer have nothing on pink flamingos when it come to generating holiday cheer. Mine have lights inside and if you think they’re tacky, I’ll have you know I bought them at a very prestigious home furnishings store. I display them on my front porch every year, especially when it’s partying time. I tell my neighbors, “When the flamingos are lit, so are we.”

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year — which is kind of a given, since 2009 couldn’t possibly be worse.

COMMENTS

  1. Helen @ Gardening With Confidence

    Great photo…nothing is tacky at Christmas…H.

    December 18, 2008 at 4:05 pm
  2. Lianne

    Well said. Those icicle lights make me hostile. Especially because people who put them up seem to rarely take them down. Nothing like icicle lights in July to get my tempered flared up! Not to mention, usually 40% of the strands don’t work. Inconsistent tackiness!

    December 18, 2008 at 11:40 pm
  3. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    Grumpy,
    You obviously have never lived in a neighborhood with COVENANTS! They take all the fun out of decorating for the holidays!
    We aren’t allowed to have outdoor lights that go above 75 watts, and we’re not supposed to leave them on all night.
    How I’d love to put a huge flock of “lit” pink flamingos in our front meadow!
    Cameron

    December 20, 2008 at 9:37 am
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Why don’t you? Take a stand! Stick it to the Man! Grumpians, are we going to allow bureaucrats to dictate how we enjoy the holidays?

    December 20, 2008 at 9:57 am
  5. Jeff

    Grumpy asked: “So when is a Christmas light display merely exuberant and when does it devolve into tacky?” For sure when you need a computer to co-ordinate the lights with the music that is being broadcast over a low power FM transmitter.

    December 20, 2008 at 10:14 pm
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    Sounds like your yard, Jeff. Who else would coordinate lights with the Dean Martin Christmas Album?

    December 21, 2008 at 5:21 pm
  7. The Lazy Gardener

    When I was young, tacky was so uncool
    When I turned 40, tacky was a velvet barstool
    Now I’m 65 and — throwing off all that mental wool
    I say to this you: bottle trees RULE!

    December 21, 2008 at 9:31 pm
  8. plysak

    My friends and I have a word for over-the-top, tacky Christmas decorations: Chromit (Christmas + vomit)

    December 23, 2008 at 10:26 am
  9. Jim Long

    What’s tacky mean, anyway? I think most Christmas lights are tacky, by design. Some do have matching colors, some glaring white flashing icicles. But no matter what the design, classy or tacky, it still winds up looking like a carnival. A nativity made out of flowerpots, now THERE’s real class. Beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. I experienced that very light show in a cave. Priceless!

    December 23, 2008 at 4:32 pm
  10. Jim Long

    What’s tacky mean, anyway? I think most Christmas lights are tacky, by design. Some do have matching colors, some glaring white flashing icicles. But no matter what the design, classy or tacky, it still winds up looking like a carnival. A nativity made out of flowerpots, now THERE’s real class. Beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. I experienced that very light show in a cave. Priceless!

    December 23, 2008 at 4:32 pm
  11. felder

    harumph. you oughta see the christmas tree i made out of stacked tires painted green, with a shiny hubcap star and lots of cheesy colored lights…
    the neighborhood association wasn’t too pleased, but SCREW ‘em, it’s no worse than some of the earrings i have seen THEM wearing!
    photo at http://www.felderrushing.net

    December 31, 2008 at 12:50 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener

    Felder, he of the Ancient and Diabolical House of Rushing, has weighed in on the subject of tacky lights. No one is better qualified to both judge and create tackiness. Do check out his Xmas tree. You’ll be glad Xmas comes only once a year.

    December 31, 2008 at 2:55 pm
  13. jz

    That tacky cave reminds me of Meramec Caverns. It has tons of billboards, charges a fortune to get in, and has a sound and light show at the end of the tour.

    September 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    What better way to get you into the Xmas spirit!

    September 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm
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  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Excellence is the Grump’s middle name. You are a very intelligent and tasteful person.

    May 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm