Dec 4

Each December a strange phenomenon occurs. Australian Bureau of Statistics records show an annual spike in household energy consumption, and a concurrent rise in hospital admissions owing to falls from ladders. The reason for this is obvious. Christmas lights.

When I was a kid, Christmas lights went on the Christmas tree and that was that. Then some enterprising individual realised that those long chains of fairy lights could be tacked up pretty much anywhere. Soon they were appearing around front doors, then the window frames and roofline. The spools of lights got longer and longer. Fifty, a hundred, a thousand globes! Now anything is fair game: trees, shrubs, letterbox. The family pet is getting nervous.

The coloured Christmas lights I loved as a kid are now old hat. The limits of yard illumination are being pushed to the extreme. Trees glow an unearthly blue, pulsing silently like an alien spacecraft ready for takeoff. Perched on a rooftop, Santa’s sleigh is outlined in red and green neon, flickering at three frames per second in a crude depiction of reindeer-powered flight.

The number of man-hours spent erecting these modern art masterpieces must be staggering. But thankfully dad can enlist the kids to lend a hand. Nothing gladdens the heart more than seeing a six-year-old struggling up a ladder with a spool of Christmas lights and a staple gun.

Almost every house in our street has a Christmas display in its front yard. And it keeps ramping up each year, like a kind of Yuletide arms race. In the case of one neighbour, it is literally a competition; a large hand-painted sign in their front yard requests that passers-by vote for them in the local radio station’s “Best Christmas Lights” contest. Their incandescent abode can be seen from space and has the carbon footprint of a small Pacific island nation.

But there is something captivating, even for an adult, about the Christmas displays. A primordial excitement is stirred in the belly when the Christmas lights appear, a sign that presents and eggnog are just around the corner.

On Christmas Eve we go for a wander around our local streets and take in the spectacle. One street in particular is well established as the local hub of Christmas illumination. Here the footpaths are crowded with people. Cars slow down to walking pace to gaze at the lights and to avoid wayward toddlers. Dogs run from yard to yard in a photon–induced frenzy.

By the New Year it is almost over. A few houses hold out, refusing to admit that the fun must end, but by mid-January even they have flicked the switch. And by then I am thankful that Christmas comes but once a year.


This video has been floating around for a few years now, but it still makes me smile. Be sure to watch it all the way through.

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