When is Enough, Too Much?
Wednesday, 23 July 2008

I am a self professed 'extreme' holiday decorator.  I have more lights, display items and computer power running my display than 99.9% of the people out there.  It takes me a full week to set up my display.  Others have referred to me as 'one of THOSE people'.

Unfortunately, in the past year I've read some very troubling things on this wacky thing called the web.  In short, I think all extreme decorators need to learn when their 'light eccentricity' turns into 'bulb insanity'.

As is human nature, we seek out others with similar tastes.  I belong to several on-line communities where that other one-tenth of one percent hang out.  Recently, I've begun to see a troubling trend:  decorators who are completely out of control.  Now, I am all for pushing the envelope when decorating, but there comes a point where what you think is enough is simply too much. 

The first step in knowing where the line is to realize we (as light enthusiasts) are ALL egomaniacs.  You can lie to yourself and say 'I do this for the visitors/children!' or 'It's my way of giving back to the community!', but deep down that's not the real reason.  While children's smiles are a benefit, they are not the driving force behind the extreme decorator.  Face facts:  you LOVE that you are the center of attention.  Once you understand that it's your ego that drives you to unreasonable lengths, you may be able to put everything into perspective. 

I'd like to point out that I have seen EACH AND EVERY ONE of the following examples posted on popular internet sites within the last 12-24 months.  I am not making any of this up.  Here are the top 3 things I think we need to reign in right now:

1 - You disconnect or otherwise circumvent electrical equipment designed to keep you and your visitors safe. 

This also applies if you wire your own outlets/light strings/extension cords/whatever without a clue as to how to do it SAFELY (IE: 'Frankenwiring').

These are the people who I like to call 'Electrician's at ANY cost'.  These are the decorators who: remove the GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection from their outdoor circuits because they can't run their lights in the rain, replace 20A circuit breakers with 50A ones so they can draw more power, or try to save a few cents by sharing a neutral wire with non-polarized plugs.  ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY or JUST PLAIN STUPID?  Why would you want to do ANY of those things? 

My favorite excuses are those I hear about removing GFCIs :

"I have to run my lights in the rain in case someone drove 2 hours to see them!".  What you are saying is that your EGO of putting on a show is MORE important than the safety of you or your visitors.  How will you feel when one of them ends up DEAD?  Let me say this succinctly;  "IT SUCKS TO BE THEM if they drove 2 hours and the display was down for rain!" 

"Oh, but I work safely.  I know better than to touch things so I won't ever be electricuted... blah blah blah".  Ah yes, there is even MORE ego at work here.  GFCIs, fuses, and other protection devices are there to save you when you do something STUPID, not when you are doing things 'by the book'.  All of us intend to work safely; I think you would be hard pressed to find someone to say "Ahh, the heck with it.  I have GFCIs on this circuit so I don't have to worry about turning the power off while working with these live wires!" 

 According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 1,000 people visit emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday lights each year.  Do YOU want to be part of that statistic?  They are called 'accidents' people, not 'on purposes' for a reason.

"My display is set back from the road, away from visitors.  They can't get in".  Don't you believe it for 1 minute!  I had just finished setting up for the 2007 season and was running a test of the show.  I was sitting back away from the house, next to my neighbors car and partially hidden from view admiring my work.  One of my neighbors and her children were out for a walk.  As soon as they got in front of my house, the little girl took off like a flash across 40 feet of my yard and grabbed on to a wire frame deer with both hands.  Thankfully, nothing happened.  How quickly could this have turned into a tragedy?  All it would have taken was a circuit without GFCI and a broken bulb or bare wire. BZZZT!  Dead.   Are YOU prepared to comfort the family of a dead child?

2 - You have no respect for the neighbors, the neighborhood, or laws and regulations.

We have all read the horror stories about neighbors shutting down someone's display for whatever reason.  Many times, these people are simply 'Grinches'.  I know personally (well, as personal as you can get over the internet) several extreme decorators that have neighbors who are unreasonable and "mean for mean's sake".  No, this comment is directed at those of us who think "It's my God-given right to decorate how I see fit.  Screw the neighbors!".

I have posted previously on this blog about neighbor relations.  That article was in reference to someone who had only removed 1/2 of his display by the end of MARCH.  That is simply unacceptable.  Many of us already strain the good-will of our neighbors during the season.  There simply is NO reason to stretch the season into MARCH.  Factor in the set-up time, and you have a display that has been up FOR OVER 5 months. 

Equally unacceptable are those who thumb their noses at the law or city regulations.  During the 2007 season, someone in a large city erected a LARGE 10 foot tall crown on top of their roof.  The city began proceedings against the home owner for building a structure without a permit.  Even with my limited knowledge of building codes/laws, and my untrained eye, this thing DEFINITELY required a permit.  Rather than work with the city, the home owner immediately started a black PR campaign against them.  If I were part of the city govt, I'd find EVERY existing law and use it against him. 

The real problem is that because of this persons attitude, the city/county WILL enact new ordinances, and/or REALLY crack down on other decorators. Those ordinances WILL eventually restrict ALL of us from doing what we love to do.  Be a good neighbor - be responsible!


3 - You have a burning desire to be a stage lighting designer, or a need to make Disneyworld look like a bunch of amateurs.

We really need to understand what our place is in the world.  Our houses are not the stages for the latest production of a KISS concert.  Sure, there is a place for a little theatrics - fog machines, fake snow machines, perhaps even some DMX controlled spot lights.  But do you really need a COLORED FLAME THROWER?  Are you seriously telling me you want your holiday lights to be synchronized WITH FIREWORKS?

I mean, let's forget for a moment about the safety of these things.  When did flame throwers and fireworks become part of the holiday season?  If these are the things you want to dabble in, I suggest you move to New York City and get work on a Broadway production before you attempt it at your house.  You are way out of your league otherwise.

With the prices of semi-conductors and other electronic components falling like an apple from a tree in the past few years, many technologies have gone from very expensive to within the grasp of normal people.  Some of this technology is great:  Compact Fluorescent flood lights, LED's, even animated displays.  No, I'm referring to 1 particular technology/semiconductor:  the solid state laser. 

One person has stated that he will be using red and green lasers in the range of 200-300mw of power for his holiday show.  At these power levels, these lasers can literally start fires and instantly blind anyone looking directly at them.  Yet they plan on using them OUTDOORS with little or no training, and most likely NO safety precautions.  One of these people has a display that is located within a few miles of a major airport on the final approach path.  All it is going to take is for 1 errant beam to hit a cockpit and we could have a disaster, for no other reason than so that person can say 'I use lasers in my show!'.  Trust me, visitors are going to be wowed with everything else, they DON'T need lasers, flames, or fireworks!