Christmas lights - is it just festive ‘peacocking’?

The festive season is here, and so are the shiny, sparkly, twinkling decorations to go with it.

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The Independent Online

Christmas lights are as much a part of the festive season as crackers, pigs in blankets and after-dinner games around the fire.

What’s a Christmas tree without the twinkle? What’s a bustling high street full of frantic shoppers, prams and dropped gloves without a shimmering display above, illuminating the forgetful husband and the frosty pavement?

Yes, December is so dark a month to hold the year’s festive celebrations that we need little bulbs to light up the occasion. We don’t want to be sitting in buzzing, every day lighting while tucking into our turkey or goose; we don’t want to be enjoying a glass or two of medicinal mulled wine on Boxing Day afternoon in full colour. A gentle, hazy glimmer from the corner of the room is enough. That way everybody can drift off for a stolen half an hour and wake up just in time for Chicken Run.

But it’s not just on the tree that Christmas lights twinkle. And they’re not always gentle and forgiving. Some find it necessary to dress up the front of their respective homes as if they’re each and every one of them a Las Vegas hotel, expecting Elvis for a sell-out show at any moment.

At times, it’s just one homeowner’s dream to display. Like festive ‘peacocking’ to use a term stolen from The Game; a way perhaps to highlight how much they can afford to spend at B&Q throughout November. But often, these houses stand alone as a glowing beacon of happiness, Father Christmases blown up and raving, colours so vivid an Aldous Huxley mescaline trip would find it hard to compete.

There are the neighbourly competitions, always amusing, in which two quite often middle-aged men find it necessary to outdo one another in yet another chauvinistic outlay. Who can put on the greatest show? Who can rack up the biggest electricity bill and annoy the Green Party member at number 64 the most? We all know the stereotype: something that wouldn’t look out of place in an American department store; something our mothers might describe as ‘tacky,’ or possibly ‘kitch.’ Something, maybe, that pulsates to the tune of Gangnam Style.

In society there are always those who think it best to go the extra mile. And if nothing else it’s staggering to read about how much people spend on festive showcasing. One IT consultant spent a jolly £30,000 on his artistry. ‘What do the neighbours think?’ indeed. Imagine if you were across the road. It’d be blinding. This particular extravagance is in aid of a charitable cause however, so it can shine without complaint.

But other such contrivances come without such similar meaning and are met with derision. As with so many things there’s an element of snobbery when Christmas lights come out to play. It’s yet another source of middle-class prejudice and ridicule. How ghastly and garish are those houses with all the red and green, the inflatable reindeer on the roof and more flashing than Hampstead Heath? Don’t they know that a simple, delicate, white set of fairy lights hung gracefully upon the sill is enough? At most, perhaps strewn through the tree at the end of the driveway? Councils are contacted and letters are written. The tutting brigade march swiftly through the streets. Only Lights that whisper ‘Ikea’ so faintly in the moonlight are acceptable.

The question is, do Christmas light exhibitionists deserve this? Are these spectacles really just another piece of ‘tacky,’ seemingly America-caused over-indulgence, or just ‘festive fun’ that need not be criticised by Waitrose shoppers and House of Fraser fans?

It seems to me that while the environment certainly suffers somewhat over Christmas, there’s an endearing beauty to the arrangements. Like a moth to a flame, we are drawn to light and these decorations are mesmerising. Sure, vajazzling one’s house may not be in the best of taste; but those who moan of vulgarity, light pollution, front garden boundaries and increased traffic need to either be quiet or put their Ray Bans on. There’s just no room for such nose-upturning at Christmas.