It is pure American tradition.
Like fluorescent jello molds, Black Friday, football, It’s a Wonderful Life, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and fruitcake, Christmas lights are also a reoccurring feature of the American Christmas holiday spectacular. In a country where excess is not enough, over the top holiday light displays lend themselves brilliantly to my own favorite holiday activity: the “Christ-tastic Award for Best Holiday House Décor.”
While the criteria for the award are quite simple, there are multitude ways to achieve the highest point score. Only homes which display all of the essential elements are eligible for the Award. Each home will be assessed twenty (20) points for each essential element they display, although points may be detracted based upon the criterion listed under each section. Variations on these elements are encouraged, with special bonus points awarded for creative innovations on the essential themes.
I. The décor scheme must include blinking lights. This absolutely includes light strings known as flashing lights, chasing lights, running lights, or good old fashioned twinkling lights. This does not include sparkling lights, glittering lights, contemporary twinklers, or any kind of light that is decidedly more tasteful than flashing lights.
BONUS: Five (5) points are awarded for homes in which an entire portion of the décor (a whole tree, an entire house, or everything lit for the holidays) blinks on and off repeatedly, so that, for a few terrifying long seconds, there is total darkness. Five (5) points are awarded to homes in which particularly garish colors are used.
For instance, wrapping a tree in two colors because one ran out of same-color lights garners one five (5) bonus points. Likewise, noticeably decorating half of a tree or a bush with lights or simply tossing light strings into very tall trees so as to decorate the top also earns the house five (5) bonus points.
DETRACTIONS: Ten (10) points will be detracted from homes that feature any combination of tasteful and non-tasteful light displays.
II. The tableau must blend the sacred and the profane. This can be done in any fashion. For example, a manger scene next to a blow-up snow globe scene is acceptable. A plastic Santa Claus in the chimney and baby Jesus in the yard is also acceptable. The best scenario includes Santa, Flying Reindeer, or an Elf within the manger.
However, note that the sacred must be represented by at least one member of the Holy Trinity. To be clear, angels, Seraphim, or Cherubim, on their own, do not constitute the sacred. Thus, angels cavorting with Rudolph do not qualify. Special consideration will be given for crucifixes that light up and holographic Nativity scenes.
True Nativity scenes must contain at least one palm tree or one animal figure, preferably a camel or a sheep. Five (5) bonus points will be awarded for any combination of camel and sheep. Five (5) bonus points will be awarded for a palm tree as long as it is within three feet of the Nativity scene. Any palm tree more than three (3) feet, in any direction, of the Nativity scene constitutes a Christmas beach scene and must be accompanied by the requisite light up seashells, treasure chest, Yuletide driftwood, and a drunken Santa pirate (with cask ‘o rum). Five (5) bonus points will be awarded if Jimmy Buffet is incorporated into the beach Christmas milieu.
BONUS: Five (5) extra points for reindeer and/or Santa present in the manger. Ten (10) extra points for sweet baby Jesus in the back of Santa’s sleigh. Ten (10) extra points for a giant Menorah anywhere near Santa Claus. Fifteen (15) extra points for any scene featuring an adult Jesus and the infant Jesus.
III. At least one licensed character must be present. Any licensed character in any form is acceptable. This includes plastic light-ups, plastic blow-ups, fabric inflatables, wood or plastic stand-ups, plushies in the window, etc.
BONUS: Five (5) bonus points shall be awarded to homes which display homemade licensed characters that bear only a slight resemblance to the actual licensed character. This especially includes homemade characters which embody Chernobyl-type mutations: out of proportion Mickey Mouses, pink Homer Simpsons, Spongebobs without legs or arms, etc. Ten (10) bonus points shall be awarded to homes with homemade wood stand ups which feature unpainted, unfinished backs, and which are visible from most angles.Ten (10) bonus points will be awarded to houses which have appropriated Halloween décor for Christmas use. For example, Shrek wearing a scarf, Batman in a Santa hat, the Incredible Hulk in mittens, etc. All of these fulfill the licensed character requirement.
Any home featuring a Peanuts character (except for Peppermint Patty) or a character from any Rankin/Bass Christmas film, especially Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, and The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold receives special consideration in the form of fifteen (15) bonus points.
DETRACTIONS: Five (5) bonus points will be detracted from houses which display the requisite licensed character on a decorative Christmas flag. In fact, ten (10) points will be detracted from any home flying a holiday themed flag. Also, the licensed character requirement cannot be filled by any licensed character as they appeared in the ridiculously boring Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Any licensed character in Victorian dress enjoying a very Dickens Christmas will be immediately disqualified.
IV. There must be evidence of past holidays. Any past holiday accoutrement is acceptable. This includes, but is not limited to, rotting pumpkins on the porch, forgotten harvest scenes, propped up tombstones, faux corpses or plastic Easter eggs hanging from trees, Fourth of July garland, Shamrock lights, etc. Jack ‘O Lantern lawn and leaf collection bags are also acceptable as past holiday evidence.
BONUS: Ten (10) bonus points will be awarded to homes which incorporate autumn harvest scenes into Christmas Nativity scenes. Points shall be awarded if the Nativity scene includes at least three of the following: corn stalk husks, hay bales, various gourds or pumpkins, colored corn (maize), a scarecrow, a pitchfork, a cornucopia, a donkey or oxcart, any color gingham material, or a traditional paisley bandanna. Five (5) extra bonus points will be given if the bandanna is tied to the heads (Bret Michaels-style) of any of the following: baby Jesus, Joseph, one or more of the Three Wise Men.
DETRACTIONS: No bonus points will be awarded to a gourd standing in as sweet baby Jesus, instead, twenty (20) points will be detracted.
V. Patriotism must be on display. All patriotic references must be to the United States. This includes flags, light up flag displays, red- white-blue light schemes or wreaths, blinking U.S.A. signs, giant Uncle Sam nutcrackers, etc.
BONUS: Five (5) bonus points will be given to super-patriotic displays which invoke profanity and are completely dismissive of any other country or culture. For instance, “America Kicks Ass” or “If You Ain’t American, Christmas Ain’t For You” light up signs are totally acceptable.
DETRACTIONS: Patriotism to any other country other than the United States will incur a twenty (20) point detraction. This also includes U.S. territories. However, there can be evidence of bi-country patriotism as long as it is obvious to the viewer that the patriotism displayed for the other country is secondary to the patriotism displayed for the United States. For instance, a house may include an Irish, German, Italian, etc. flag or light display as long as that display is at least five times smaller than the United States element. If the secondary display of patriotism exceeds these standards, then the offending home will be disqualified.
A patriotic military theme may be replaced by extreme loyalty to any collegiate or professional American football team. In this case, twenty (20) bonus points will be awarded to any home where Santa or Joseph is wearing a team jersey and the Three Wise Men are dressed as referees.
BONUS: Ten (10) bonus points for use of any faux military accoutrement in the holiday display. Note: this accoutrement does not include any faux guns, knives, hatchets, or archery sets that might be displayed as part of a hunting-themed holiday display.
DETRACTIONS: None. All displays which feature a patriotic military themes are acceptable. Guns are always acceptable.
A. Twenty (20) bonus points will be awarded to apartments/condos/townhouses which manage to feature all of the essential elements on their balcony or on a very tiny front stoop.
B. While inflatable components are severely discouraged, the rising popularity of these tasteless items makes them impossible to exclude, therefore, five (5) extra bonus points will be awarded to homes in which inflatable decorations are limp and laying on the ground.
Elvis. Always Acceptable and encouraged in any form for thirty (30) bonus points. Fifty (50) bonus points for fat, jumpsuit Elvis cradling sweet baby Jesus. Seventy (70) bonus points for a fat, jumpsuit Elvis with angel wings located in a Nativity scene.
Leg Lamps. Any home displaying a lit leg lamp with fringed lampshade (ala A Christmas Story) in a front window will receive thirty (30) bonus points.
Blatant reference to alcohol. Always acceptable. In particular, references to macro-brewed American beer (Bud, Miller, Michelob) garner an extra five (5) bonus points. References to Schlitz beer or any premium liquor garner an extra ten (10) points for originality.
Paper bag luminaries. Acceptable and encouraged. Ten (10) points will be detracted for fake, plastic “paper bag” luminaries. Fifteen (15) bonus points will be awarded for real paper bag luminaries, particularly if they are on fire or show signs of scorching.
Aluminum trees and garland. Acceptable. Twenty (20) bonus points for aluminum trees visible in front windows. Another five (5) bonus points if a color wheel is clearly present. Any use of aluminum garland, particularly if strung haphazardly about the entire yard, garners fifteen (15) bonus points.
Image projectors. Any image projected unto a garage, driveway, or house is completely unacceptable. The offending home will be disqualified.
U.S. Presidents. Proper use of a United States President in a Christmas display shall not include an Obama figure in a Santa hat. It shall include Clinton as Santa and/or Nixon as one of the Three Wise Men. All other possibilities remain unacceptable. Points for patriotism will be awarded for presidential displays, but only if the displayed president is George W. Bush.
Music. Most traditional American Christmas music is acceptable. Mannheim Steamroller, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra are not: minus thirty (30) points. Thirty (30) bonus points for incorporating Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With the Devil” into the display.
Hunting and/or fishing-themed displays. References to hunting or fishing are encouraged, especially if the display includes guns and/or deer racks dressed in holiday décor, with lights strung around their antlers. Scenes which include Santa or Joseph stalking the Flying Reindeer are not acceptable. Five (5) bonus points for every field dressed deer or gun displayed. Guns are acceptable and encouraged. The more guns the better.
Santa’s workshop. Any version of this tableau must include at least three elves, one of which must be cobbling together a wooden toy and another wrapping a gift. The elves must be located in an actual workshop. Please see “Fair Use of Christmas Elves” for more information.
Fair Use of Christmas Elves. Since they are social creatures, Elves must be grouped in threes. They must not be displayed doing any heavy lifting. Elves must be displayed in a cheery, semi-enclosed workshop atmosphere and shall be depicted only doing light, merry work, such as cobbling together toys. They do not work on assembly lines, nor do they engage in mischievous pranks such as pushing Santa down chimneys or riding the flying reindeer. Any home displaying elves unfairly will be disqualified.
Special Note: Garden gnomes may be incorporated into Christmas displays, but they must not be used in place of Christmas elves. Homeowners must respect the distinct differences between Christmas elves and garden gnomes.
Helicopters. Unacceptable. Minus (10) points. However, helicopters may be used as part of a patriotic military display.