Christmas lights outcry: Some say sad-looking displays have got to go. Or do they?

Petula Dvorak
Columnist January 16

At some point, the inflatable Santa begins to look flaccid. The garland crisps. The blinking lights take on a last-call desperation.

When, exactly, is it time to take down Christmas?

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Right now, argues one homeowner fed up with the over-staying mid-January jolliness of her Alexandria neighborhood.

“I’m going to say it — the thing a lot of us have been thinking but nobody has been willing to say on here,” the homeowner wrote this week on her community’s Internet mailing list. “PLEASE try to take down your holiday decor. We find ourselves in mid-January with lights still out and lit every night, blow up Santa on the corner, garlands and wreaths galore, etc.”

Her Type-A screed went on, finally concluding: “I don’t think we’re the kind of neighborhood that should still have these up when February rolls around. Thank you!!”


John Sullivan with his holiday lights at his Alexandria house on Wednesday. While some in the neighborhood are now fed up with the displays, others still enjoy them. Sullivan says he isn’t taking his down for a while. (Wayne Hulehan)

Whoa, lady. Should I tell her about the year our front porch celebrated until Easter?

Welcome to the world of neighborhood e-mail groups, where “Can-you-believe-those-people?” snarks usually reserved for the kitchen table go viral.

The great Christmas Light Debate is engulfing Beverley Hills, a lovely Alexandria neighborhood of winding streets and hills, with a clipped-hedge properness that makes me nervous.

It’s the perfect place for the Grinch and other overachieving Washington types who sided with her. It’s where Richard Nixon lived when he was a congressman.

“I have learned many things since joining this wonderful neighborhood, first and formost [sic] is that the good citizens of this area are fiercely protective of inflatable pumpkins, witches, and wisemen,” wrote a fellow Regulator of Decorations, who tried to mount a similar campaign earlier in the year.

“Just this past Halloween I made a similar suggestion and found the reaction overwhelming. I received threats, nasty notes and one proposal of marriage,” the resident wrote. “I wish you luck in your clean up campaign. I fear what inflatables Valentine’s Day will bring.”

But Beverley Hills, like the nation’s capital, has its share of blustery wiseguys with libertarian streaks.

“I’m shopping for Valentine’s Day lights. Maybe a pink flamingo,” announced Wayne Hulehan, one of the moderators of the e-mail group, who thought the Grinch’s judginess should be returned with some friendly-but-in-her-face attitude.

“Beverley Hills is not a home owners association and only bound by Alexandria law, not home-owner association policies. We can paint our front doors any color we like,” Hulehan wrote, before he headed out to trawl the clearance aisles for even more Christmas lights to annoy the Grinch, who declined to be interviewed about the e-mail pushback she has been getting.

Others had similar ideas.

“Was gonna take down outdoor lights tomorrow before departing for three months in Florida, but the challenge has now been issued,” declared a government worker who asked me to maintain his online alias, Frip Chissom. “Which house has the endurance, the stamina, the fortitude, the good ol’ American can-do spirit to earn the first annual Last Blinking Light of the Season award? And no fair if you unplug my lights before my return.”

Another family threatened an all-out, Lunar New Year’s lawn decoration blowout, complete with an inflatable steed to welcome the Year of the Horse.

Then there’s John Sullivan, a real estate agent who calls himself the Clark Griswold of Kentucky Avenue. He spends days getting all his Christmas lights right, the telephone pole candy cane, the red-and-green tree, the skier shooshing across the facade of his brick home. When January rolls around, he tones down the candy cane. But the snowflakes stay throughout winter.

On Wednesday night, Sullivan stood proudly outside his home, bathed in the LED-light of a thousand bulbs, daring the haters to pry the snowflake light path out of his cold, dead lawn before Presidents’ Day.

“These are winter decorations,” said his wife, Becky.

“And we’re not going to take them down,” John added.

Online, Becky amended: “Please don’t egg our house.”

I did a quick social media poll to determine when, exactly, do everlasting Christmas lights become derelict. When is egging warranted?

Strict Catholics say it all stays up until the Feast of the Epiphany, which is on the 12th day after Christmas. Other folks suggested Lent or July or — for Capitol Hill types — midterm elections.

The overworked and overwhelmed admitted total dereliction. “We leave ours up and change the name,” one mom wrote. “Christmas lights, Valentine’s day lights, Easter lights, freedom lights (covers all of the summer holidays) . . . You get the point.”

Imagine what a year-round Beverley Hillbilly like that would do to the neighbors undone by overripe wreaths.

“Really,” one resident said. “This has been the biggest scandal to hit the neighborhood since dog poop.”

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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