In recent years it seems to be easier and easier to find examples of man-made, Christmas-related conflict surrounding even the most innocuous of holiday traditions and expressions. These conflicts run the gamut from serious issues of public policy to the silliness demonstrated by the content of this post.
Last week I addressed the situation in Loudon County, Virginia where Santa Claus was crucified in a confluence of Free Speech and Poor Governance.
But a fight of a completely different hue erupted this season in Doylestown, PA. The trouble was Colored Christmas Lights, my friend. And that’s Trouble with a capital T!
In the tradition of the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Capulets and the Montagues, the Bloods and the Crips, it was white lights vs. colored lights. One side espoused tradition, elegance and a Code of Conformity against a rebellion of flash and festiveness instigated by the free-spirited. Each side dug in behind barricades constructed from long-held beliefs of what Christmas is supposed to look like; not just on one’s own house, but on the neighbor’s house next door and the one across the street.
The battlefield was the neighborhood streets. Progress in the conflict was expressed in monetary fines accumulated vs. the number of homes that decided to join The Rebels against The Establishment.
The Establishment was represented by humorless, dour functionaries draped in flowing robes of white. They stared down from their castle ramparts upon the rebellious rabble, who no longer appreciated the purity and tradition conveyed by their flawless, heaven-like white lights. They persisted in the observance of the community’s established Holiday Standard; and they cast judgement on that criminal element who dared challenge the long-held view of White Lights Only!
The Rebels scurried about in open defiance, dressed in Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoats. They threw splashes of vibrant color all over the landscape; protested The Law of the Land; and teased the doddering, unflinching Establishment with Christmas landscapes full of Color, devoid of White. They egregiously violated the Creed of Suburban Holiday Propriety, and responded to all efforts to control them by ratcheting up the assault of reds, blues, greens, purples and yellows. And when The Establishment cajoled, then scolded, then threatened, the Rebels reached for their nuclear option … The Lighted Reindeer!
And that’s what this holiday season has looked like in Doylestown Station.
The problem originated with an overreaching homeowners association. These associations are created in the spirit of preserving atmosphere and cleanliness by way of conformity. The goal is admirable; but if unchecked, the absence of boundaries will always cause problems for the rule setters.
People don’t like to be told what to do by someone who’s not their parents, their boss, or their spouse … not when they spend so much of their time doing the things they do because of their parents, their boss, or their spouse. They are willing to submit only as far as they can relate a restriction to a common benefit. Once The Standard pushes past the point where the ideal crosses the pragmatic, resistance is sure to flourish. That was the crux of The Great Holiday Lights Debacle.
It’s one thing to legislate one color of garage door or what kind of fence is permissible. Some homeowners can appreciate that – on a basic level – conformity with standards can provide a lasting sense of a sedate, tidy quality of life. You don’t want Billy Bob’s house next door looking like a Caribbean brothel, especially when you paid a lot of money to move away from your old neighbor, who had six Volkswagens in varying states of decay in static display on his front lawn.
But even then, many swear an oath never to live under the thumb of Neighborhood Oppression. Some homeowners associations are shadows of authority, preferring to stick to cutting the grass in common spaces. Others seem to thrive on legislating conformity and swinging The Big Stick at non-compliants.
It’s a much higher level of intrusion though to demand conformity over such temporary displays like Christmas lights. Holiday decorations – whether inside the home or outside on the rain gutters – often go directly to one’s familial traditions or their personal interpretation of what makes the Christmas and holiday season so beautiful and enjoyable. The Doylestown Station example screams of all the reasons why so many people find homeowners associations an unacceptable intrusion.
Personally, I like the white lights. They are stately, elegant and clean. But they do not – in my opinion – give a particularly festive appearance. Our house is decorated annually in just about every color on the Christmas spectrum. Because a) That’s the way my family decorated when I was a kid. and b) Our suburban neighborhood had almost all white lights when we moved there one December years ago. In a way I enjoyed being “the rebel”, doing something different from the rest of the ‘hood.
But there were no rules as to what you could display or how you could display it. And every year since we seem to notice more and more color on neighborhood houses at Christmas time.
We just didn’t have to relive The Civil War over it!
For your consideration:
This goes more to the earlier story mentioned in a previous post about Santa on a cross.
This time of year you hear people, especially devote Christians, complaining about a “war on Christmas“. It’s the belief that some parts of society are waging a concerted effort to remove all religious references to Christmas by secularizing or eliminating public displays of Christian symbolism and meaning from the holiday season.
Now whether you buy into that theory or not, let me offer you just one example that – in my opinion – seems to support the “war on Christmas” claims. In Orange County, California a public park that for almost 60 years was the sole domain of local churches for Christmas messages. That has changed this year, and changed rather dramatically.
If you read the article linked above, you will realize the following facts:
- There was an ORGANIZED effort to wrest control of the public space from churches by individuals and organizations that – in most cases – ascribed to the exact opposite message to those previously displayed there.
- Not only were the local churches almost pushed out (given 3 display locations vs. 14 from prior years), but so was the Santa Monica Police Association who worked with the churches on previous displays.
- Of the 18 spaces won by atheist organizations in a lottery (because so many applications for spots were received), ONLY 3 of those 18 “atheist spaces” were ever used. The rest sat vacant.
- The messages in the three “atheist spaces” that were used ranged from the innocuous “Happy Solstice” to overtly anti-religious hostility that essentially equated religious conviction with belief in myths.
So there was an organized effort to claim a piece of real estate in order to further the interests of one faction over another. That effort not only involved a level of duplicity (applications with no intent to use the space), but seemed designed specifically to simply deny use by competing interests (churches). In addition, the effort resulted in open hostility directed towards the very nature of those competing interests (their beliefs).
Regardless of your views on public displays of religious symbolism during the holiday season, the role of religion in the country’s founding principles, or the separation of church and state, you certainly might agree that this example sure looks like a war!