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Lighting Your Christmas

'Tis the season for energy efficiency, saving money to be wasted elsewhere.

By Thomas Anderson  |  December 17, 2017

‘Tis the season… and all that sort of thing.

In recent years the traditional seasonal celebration has changed dramatically. Social upheaval, parts of the world in turmoil, that nearly silent sound of a swamp being drained, and other momentous occurrences occupy our minds. We live with constant change.

This author says “Merry Christmas,” not “Season’s Greetings” or some other platitudinous greeting of generic acceptability. It is time to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah unapologetically. This is a season of the year when the things we do seem especially momentous.

And in this season, displayed for us like in no other, the revolution in energy is all around us, blasting electrons, photons, and other elemental particles of every description out in festive surroundings. This is made possible by the technology of our time. Revolution is the proper word for the progress that is being made; it is far from the usual evolutionary progress of previous times.

Even the modern Christmas light, tree-borne, permanently affixed to wreaths, or hanging from garlands on the light posts outside are products of the latest leap of technology. The energy consumption of a modern light bulb is 1/6 what it was in George Bailey’s time (James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life – 1946), making a life more wonderful for all of us.

People who watched that movie would have reacted with jaw-dropped amazement at someone handling a string of 2017 Christmas lights. The bulbs they would have been acquainted with were usually 15W each, and they burned hot enough to leave a blister on any small hand that grabbed one, not to mention setting the occasional overly-dry tree on fire.

LED lights burn cool and are available in configurations that would make even the Grinch feel cheer. Strings of lights containing 100 or more bulbs can be plugged into each other without fear of overloading an outlet, allowing Christmas lights galore at any residence. A hundred lights in olden times would pop the circuit breaker or blow the fuse; no limit on the number of strings of lights connected together is found in the usual cautions for today’s lights.

And today’s lights are available in an unprecedented profusion of colors, shapes, and configurations - although, with the exception of a set of tiny globe lights found in the Home Depot website, all the lamps seem to be those minuscule little bulbs with a tiny nipple on the end. Colors displayed in the ads for these lights include blue, violet, green, red, yellow, orange, and many others. There are even strands designed to change colors in various ways.

Flashing sequences are available, resulting in displays of distracting, attention-grabbing gaudiness. Strings of these lights operate on their own individual auto-timer sequences which when combined can produce very weird effects, like two adjacent strings synchronizing their off-periods to produce a complete absence of light for relatively long stretches of time.

But those are minor complaints. The biggest complaint is the increase of the “Griswold effect” from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, producing overwhelming brightness which requires Ray-Bans.

All those things combined make the lights display a thoroughly American tradition, which the rest of the world shrugs off as "those crazy Americans."

The real American indulgence, though, is the Christmas gifts that we lavish upon our kids and ourselves – so much so as to make possible a list of really stupid seasonal ways to waste money, which we do not encourage any of our readers to take as thoughtful advice.

With that list of silly presents behind us, we can get into the really serious money-wasters. While doing the due diligence for this article, an ad kept surfacing: there is no doubt that this is an ad for superfluous items, all non-serious, all extraneous to any lifestyle.

These items are not Midas-worthy, but they are expensive. That has to count for something, and they all are high tech, or at least, sort of:

Gold Light Switch, $250 – it isn’t clear whether it is the actual switch that is gold or just the cover plate. Either way, this won’t be found in this author’s house.

Electra bike, $930 – Yes, it is battery-powered, doubtless loaded with rare-earth minerals brutally carved from strip-mined jungle mountains while polluting limpid ancestral streams.  So you can look as if you are exercising and saving the environment, when in fact you’re doing the exact opposite.

Gokukawa Leather Keyboard, $603. I’ll bet it feels good to the fingertips.

Diamond Encrusted Bluetooth Headset, $50,000 – yet another reason for a deep, abiding hatred of Bluetooth.

– DRUM-ROLL – AND NOW the convertibles, a tradition at Neiman Marcus:

His & Hers Rolls Royce Limited Edition Dawn Coupes

($439,625 & $445,750)

Because sharing is overrated: Yours & Mine Exclusive Rolls-Royce Dawn Drophead (Brit-speak for Convertible) Coupés. In a Rolls-Royce Dawn, every journey is an experience accompanied by silky smooth acceleration, steering, and braking, wrapped in unparalleled Rolls-Royce Motor Cars craftsmanship. These V12-engined beauties, designed by the brilliant Rolls-Royce Motor Cars team in Goodwood, England, are inspired by two of the most glamorous locales in the world: Lake Como and Saint-Tropez. The Coniston Blue car features a crisp Selby Grey and Black interior of hand-sewn leather, complemented by a brushed metal dashboard. The Saint-Tropez Orange car features an equally sumptuous interior of Seashell leather, accented with Dark Spice and Mandarin, with a dashboard and doors paneled in rich Canadel open-pore wood, along with luxurious lambswool floor mats. Though the Dawns are distinctly different, they both feature lustrous silver bonnets and sleek fabric tops, which disappear, silently, in mere seconds. The only decision left: Which one is yours and which one is mine?

The Neiman Marcus Rolls-Royces are in a long tradition of expensive automobiles purveyed by that retail chain, originally selected to please the wives of oil patch tycoons who had more money than sense.

Neiman Marcus has changed. This writer remembers purchasing a suit in the original store in downtown Dallas at a very reasonable price, or so he thought. It was only two months later, when the cheap fabric of the jacket ripped at the left shoulder that he realized purchasing the Neiman Marcus name no longer guarantees quality.

Electronic gadgets seem to take over at Christmas time. Maybe it is the deep-seated need for parents to entertain their kids, maybe it is the fact that a father cannot resist his own acquisitive impulses, or maybe it is the fact that everybody likes electronic entertainment, at least for a short while. But it seems that every Christmas electronic toys proliferate.

Toys presented on today’s talk-shows have become insanely complex in the way that they move and the ways they light up, and correspondingly expensive – $1000 and up.  It all reminds us of that old “Dennis the Menace” cartoon of the 1950s where Dennis gazes over a living room wherein not one square inch of carpet can be seen for all the toys. His comment? “Is this all?”

That is the hallmark of the American Christmas: not just the Christmas carols playing in the background of a family gathering where the adults huddle over their Christmas toddies and try to converse about serious topics in the face of a group of people with whom they have not bothered to speak since last year. It remains about kids and toys.

Many will have braved the airport hordes for transportation sold to them six months ago when the grim face of Christmas was months and dulled memories away.  The Chinese were so misguided that they used to say, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive," but we know that “Getting there is half the fun” is a lie.

This writer and his wife are Christians, and we celebrate Christmas. She works at a Jewish school which celebrates Hanukkah. Together, Christians and Jews, we call the season Yuletide, a pagan celebration, in which the season’s namesake, a log, is burned to the delight of all.

We will spend the next few days avoiding overcrowded places and enjoying those venues that are our habitual haunts. We will have fun, if it kills us.