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Silent night: The Christmas-light grinch


According to a recent New York Times article, there is a couple in sunny California who claim that their Christmas spirit is being stolen from them by some neighbors whom they’ve deemed to be Grinches. Apparently, these Grinches—or alternatively, subdued neighbors—were tired of the parade of cars that drove past their cul-de-sac to get a view of an extravagant holiday exhibition.


The $150,000 display included a Santa that surfed (because it only makes sense that Father Christmas hangs ten) giant candy canes and, in what sounds like an episode from the Twilight Zone, carol-singing mannequins.

After six years of putting up with the fanfare and traffic congestion exacerbated by an NBC feature that drew even more attention to the upscale San Jose suburb, the neighbors protested by getting ninety signatures and the attention of the City Council. Now a permit is required if the revelers want to keep the display up for longer than three days and they have decided that it was not worth the hassle.

So, in place of what could be considered Disneyesque ostentation, is a ten-foot tall motorized Grinch that points accusingly at the neighbors while rasping, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch.” Is it mean just because someone wants to celebrate the holiday in a more understated fashion?

I’m having a difficult time feeling any empathy toward those who litter their lawns with such carnivalistic display and obvious need for attention. Especially for the amount of time and money it costs to build such a scene. Just think what $150,000 could actually do. To begin with, homeless people could be fed, even sheltered. The affronted attitude that is expressed in the article by the reined-in revelers seems to be lacking in what should be the desire for peace on earth, good will toward man.

Don’t get me wrong. I do recall the warm feeling that I got as the holidays were approaching when I was a child and occasionally am able to achieve as an adult in this self-centered culture. I recall how I’d curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn on my lap and watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas with my family.

We’d all get teary-eyed when Linus appeared and came to Charlie Brown’s defense after the animated gang ridiculed Charlie Brown for buying the most pathetic of trees for the Christmas pageant. It took a soft-spoken child to remind Charlie Brown and his friends what the holiday is really about by reciting Luke 2:8-14. It was a simple cartoon with a big message. Sometimes I think now we have it backwards by creating something big and outlandish in an attempt to stir up those sentimental feelings. And, time after time, we fail miserably.

It’s embarrassingly true that I outdid what my parents had done for me and my parents had outdone what their parents had done for them in way of gifts on Christmas morning. Now, though, it appears that instead of the doll that does nothing more than be a doll, children are left with sophisticated toys that do little but consume the paycheck while leaving the imagination idle. And these extravaganzas seem to be only feeding the beast we’ve accepted as commercialism.

I grew up in a speck of a town in upstate New York where houses weren’t submerged in a sea of lights for neighbors to admire or envy. Most of the locals didn’t have time to do any such thing since they had farms to run. Now I live in suburbia Long Island and, gratefully, do not yet have a neighbor who wants to put on a circus of sorts, all in the name of Christmas to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I have noticed that by the time the lights have come down it seems they are going back up just as quickly.

My parents didn’t awash my house with outside lights. I think they found it challenging enough to get the entangled string of bulbs to work before draping them on the tree. But, the magic for me as a child was looking out across the field to where my grandparents’ house stood and see the glow of the single blue light of the candle placed in their living room window. The idea that there are people willing to spend days creating a small animated village on their front lawn in hopes of stirring such emotions is confounding. I am not so sure that children are anymore enchanted by the adulterated fantasy set up in the form of life-sized ornaments than I was by the farm house that suddenly became ablaze in the magic of Christmas by a single candle.

However, our California folks still feel their Christmas fun has been robbed from them. But in this imperial climate of late, certain people feel it is their right to blast their beliefs and customs without so much as caring how offensive and disruptive it is to their neighbors. Having a gigantic Grinch with pointed finger accuse a supposed injustice is certainly not going to resolve what has to be acrimony between the neighbors. For these neighbors, even if the night isn’t as bright as it had been in past years by all sorts of colorful lights plugged into a generator, one hopes that it will be filled with peace.


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