Richard and Betty Morse hadn't planned much holiday decoration this year. But when they returned home from RFK Stadium the Sunday Dallas beat Washington, in need of a little brightening up, they discovered that their 25-year-old son, Ricky, had strung their home in Northwest Washington with a brilliant array of Christmas lights.

For Al and Jackee Simon, the story was almost the same. In this year of hard times for many, their son, Gary, 30, figured that now was the time to go all-out on Christmas decorations and spent two days secretly decorating the Simons' Sligo Creek Parkway home.

Throughout the metropolitan area, the Christmas light, which at one time appeared to be fading, now seems to have regained its popularity, both on the tree and off.

"The demand for Christmas lights was so great this year we sold out a week ago and were forced to sell the lights off of the store's own trees," said Sandy Smith, a sales clerk for housewares and tree-trimming products at the Hecht Company. "People are into decorating this year, and flashing lights with a tree-topper star are the favorites."

A spokesperson for Hechinger's, the chain of lumber and home-supply stores, said that they too had sold out of Christmas light days ago.

The Christmas light has been an important part of the holiday since the days of Martin Luther, reputed to be the first person to use lights on the Christmas tree to represent Christ as the light of the world. In more recent times, though, displays have become more elaborate.

Indeed, some of the decorations around the Washington area are so extensive they could pass for runway lights at Dulles. Take the home of Bishop Walter (Sweet Daddy) McCollough, head of the United House of Prayer for All People, who maintains a Washington home on North Portal Drive NW. Here is an array of nearly 7,000 lights, mostly red. There are figurines of choirboys whose Christmas carols are piped out into the neighborhood through loudspeakers. There is a lighted manger and there is a lighted Santa Claus with lighted reindeer.

"As soon as it gets dark people start driving by honking their horns. That's when I know its time to turn on the lights," said Jane Raycrow, the bishop's housekeeper. "I usually turn them off at midnight, but this year people are ringing the doorbell and saying turn them back on."

What makes this Christmas different from the others is difficult for many residents to pinpoint, but they agree on one thing: Christmas lights make people feel good.

"It has brought us so much pleasure just watching the smiles on people's faces who pass by," said Al Simon, owner of the Sodibar Systems Company in Washington. Simon was so happy he stood in the yard at 9211 Sligo Creek Parkway and passed out candy to passersby.

Richard Morse recalled that the Dec. 5 football game he and his wife attended had been a "miserable" one, with the Redskins losing to the Cowboys, 24-10. He and his wife Betty had almost arrived at their Van Ness Street NW home when they noticed a glow over the neighborhood. "Somebody must have their Christmas lights up," Betty Morse recalled. "When we pulled up, we realized it was ours."

Over at the bishop's place, the festivities last until the early hours of the morning as buses from out of town sometimes come to a halt in front the house and groups jump out to sing along with the figurine choirboys.

"This makes the bishop very happy," said Raycrow, his housekeeper. "He gets a lot out of doing this. He hopes it will give people a new outlook on life and instead of thinking of evil make them think of brightness and better days ahead."