IT'S BEGINNING to a look a lot like Christmas. And depending upon what you think of your neighbors' giant, lit-up nativity scene, that may or may not suit your taste.

After all, one resident's holiday decor is another's eyesore. Take inflatables, those gigantic, blowup decorations that came along and replaced artificial icicles as the must-have outdoor decor. They even come in Disney themes now - Mickey Mouse, Pooh or Tigger. Some are so huge that they wouldn't be out of place in a Thanksgiving Day parade. Asked about the popularity of these, ugh, decorations, pop-culture expert Robert Thompson chalked it up to Americans' love of big things.

"In a land of Paul Bunyan and the 32-ounce slushie, bigger is better. In a nation where the idea is big, big, big stretching from sea to shining sea and then you tie it into Christmas . . . these inflatables give you a lot of bang for your buck," said Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University.

'Tis also the one time of year when many Americans completely abandon the old "less is more" rule. "More is more," Thompson said. "The point of these decorations is to transform spaces that we see every day into something totally different."

And that's where the clashes in taste start. Take the case of my sister, a classy homemaker, whose decorating style I admire. But every year, I get taken aback when she pulls out her trusty reindeer decorations. You know the ones I'm talking about. Those white, skeletal things adorned with the white lights. Sure, they look passable enough at night. During the day, though,

they're downright creepy. Not to mention classless. Of course, I tell her what I think. She gets annoyed at me but goes ahead and puts them up anyway.

Frankly, I think people set themselves up for judgment since the decorations are outside for the whole world to critique. It's only human nature to see someone's Christmas decorations and make assumptions. Recently, I came across a study examining this very thing.

Researchers at HCD Research, a market-research company based in Flemington, N.J., asked 900 people to evaluate the kind of residents that lived in two similar homes decorated for Christmas in very different styles. One was heavily festooned with colorful lights, with a giant inflatable Santa Claus and lighted reindeer. A row of colorful lights surrounded the yard. A tree was covered in multicolored lights. Meanwhile, the other home was much more subdued, decorated with just a few wreaths and not a single light.

Interestingly, more respondents thought the brightly lit house belonged to either a doctor or a lawyer than the less-decorated house. And although most people preferred to live next door to the less-ostentatious decorator (72 percent), they thought the owner of the Santa's workshop-style property would be more fun and outgoing (44 percent).

The takeway from all this, said Arthur Kover, a consultant who came up with the idea of the study, is that "sometimes the message you think

you're sending may not be the message you are sending."

Not that anybody is worrying about that kind of thing at Christmas. *

Have you peeped a hot trend that hasn't been reported? E-mail heyjen@phillynews.com and let me know what you know.